On Tuesday 25 April, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission met to decide the fate of an Algerian man, known only as ‘Y’, who is facing deportation to Algeria as a ‘suspected terrorist’. The man, who was acquitted of involvement in an alleged plot to use the poison ricin, has been subject to a control order since September last year. The hearing is a test case that could decide the fate of many others subject to detention and other restrictions under anti-terror laws.
Five days earlier, four other Algerian men detained under anti-terror laws in Long Lartin prison began hunger strikes in protest at what they see as the cruelty being meted out to them. The four now also want to return to Algeria, as they would rather face the risk of torture than be detained indefinitely without trial. In a letter to the Guardian, signed by ‘the forgotten Long Lartin hostages’, the men say: ‘We are Algerian men who have now been locked up in prison in this country for as long as five years. We know that we face torture in our country of origin, but some of us have come to the decision that a quick death is preferable to the slow death we feel we are enduring here. We have watched some of our members go mad under the strain; we have watched our families suffer and some of us believe that the only thing that we can do is to go forward into the fire, even though we believe we will be burnt. We know the population at large in this country, including Muslims, knows nothing of what has happened to us. We write to ask that you help us break the silence. We are all on hunger strike and have been so now for a week.’ (Read the letter to the Guardian in full)
The Algerian men in Long Lartin were detained for deportation in August and September 2005. The men had all been detained before as threats to national security but had then been released under control orders – which subject (an individual, his family and friends) to measures which variously involve curfews, electronic tagging, security checks of all visitors, no access to computers, (the restrictions go on).
The men believe that returning to probable torture is a far better prospect than remaining in their current limbo situation, which is affecting not just four men in Long Lartin prison but wives, sons, daughters and fathers whose lives have been turned upside down by anti-terror laws.
Commenting on the Long Lartin protesters, the Home Office told IRR News: ‘We strongly refute the claim by some prisoners that they are on hunger strike. These prisoners refused to eat prison food [during the last week] but during that time cooked their own food. They are now eating prison food again as well as their own food.’
An Amnesty International (AI) report released earlier this week points to the likelihood of these men being tortured on return to Algeria. It found that terrorist suspects in Algeria face ‘torture and other ill treatment’ which ‘remain[s] both systematic and widespread’.
Torture in Algeria
In the report, Algeria: Torture in the “War on Terror”, AI calls on the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to ‘take concrete steps to end secret detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and to ensure that safeguards under Algerian and international law which should protect detainees from such violations are enforced’. The report also finds that anyone returned to Algeria under agreements such as the proposed ‘memorandum of understandings’ currently being sought by the UK government would still ‘remain at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, regardless of any assurances given by the civilian authorities’.
- The ‘national reconciliation’ initiative has not addressed the problem of torture. In February 2006, new laws were introduced to exempt from prosecution or release under an amnesty those convicted of or detained on charges of alleged terrorist activity. Many of those released under ‘national reconciliation’ measures have been later rearrested and allegedly tortured.
- Many arrests are carried out by the Department for Information and Security (Département du renseignement et de la sécurité, DRS) which ‘systematically’ holds people in secret detention, denying them contact with the outside world, for long periods, which ‘facilitate[s] torture’.
- Arrests are carried out by DRS officers who did not identify themselves and use unmarked vehicles. They do not inform those detained of the reasons for their arrest.
- Detainees are not properly informed of their rights to communicate with their families and to a medical examination. The families of those arrested seem not to be informed of the detention and whereabouts of the detainees and are not able to communicate with them or to visit them.
- Families and lawyers who contact judicial authorities while the DRS hold individuals say that they have been unable to receive official confirmation that the individuals have been taken into detention. They also report that they did not receive any information from the judicial authorities as to the reasons of arrests and where the person was being detained.
- In virtually all cases, detainees were reportedly tortured or otherwise ill treated and later forced to sign confessions. The most frequently reported methods of torture include beatings, electric shocks and the method known as chiffon in which the victim is tied down and forced to swallow large quantities of dirty water, urine or chemicals through a cloth placed in their mouth. Detainees have also reported being undressed and humiliated, being beaten on the soles of their feet (a method known as falaka) or being suspended by the arms from the ceiling for prolonged periods of time. In several cases, detainees were allegedly forced to sign confessions under the threat of further torture or even execution. Where detainees were subsequently tried, statements elicited under torture or other ill treatment were used as principal and sometimes sole evidence in court to obtain convictions.
The report also outlined twelve specific cases of alleged secret detention and torture and other ill treatment including the following cases involving deportees:
- Nouamane Meziche, (35), a dual Algerian and French national arrested On 5 January 2006 by border police at Houari Boumediene airport, Algiers after arriving from Frankfurt in Germany he was held in secret detention, without contact to the outside world, for 43 days.
- Mourad Ikhlef, (38), a refugee in Canada arrested in Montréal on 12 December 2001 and forcibly returned to Algeria on 28 February 2003. The Canadian authorities stated that he posed a risk to national security and deported him saying they had received assurances from the Algerian authorities that he would not be subjected to ill treatment. On arrival at Algiers airport he was immediately arrested by DRS officers and transferred to army barracks on a journey where he was reportedly forced to lie on his stomach to prevent him from seeing where he was being taken. He was held for 10 days during which time he says he was ‘pressurized and insulted’. His family and his lawyer were denied any information. He was charged with alleged terrorist activities and remanded in custody. On 8 November 2005 he was convicted of membership of a terrorist group and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. He was released on 26 March 2006 and informed that all judicial proceedings against him would be ended in the context of measures for ‘national reconciliation’. He was then rearrested at his home in the El Harrach district of Algiers on 3 April 2006. His family were not given any reason for the arrest. He was reportedly detained for three days at the Antar barracks and not told why he had been arrested again. On 5 April, he was transferred to Serkadji prison without having been brought before a prosecutor, or a judge, and without any judicial decision to justify his imprisonment. On 9 April, Minister of Justice Tayeb Belaiz was quoted in press reports as saying Mourad Ikhlef should not have benefited from measures for ‘national reconciliation’.
- Salaheddine Bennia arrested in June 2003 after being forcibly returned to Algiers from the Netherlands. He was held in secret detention at the Antar barracks in Hydra, Algiers, for 19 months without charge or trial. He reported being tortured by DRS officers with electric shocks and the chiffon method during the initial months of detention. Before being released from DRS detention, he was says he was forced to sign a declaration that he had been treated humanely and not been subjected to any form of ill treatment.