[JURIST] Two major human rights advocacy groups on Tuesday voiced [HRW press release] their opposition to the "unfair trial" that led to the conviction of 26 Algerian activists on charges of holding an "armed gathering" and violence against the police. Nine activists were sentenced to six months in prison. The remaining 17, convicted in absentia, received prison sentences of two years. Protesters gathered in the Algerian city of Laghouat [official website, in French] on June 8 to protest the government's protocol for choosing recipients of public housing units, leading to a clash with law enforcement. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] (HRW) and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) [advocacy website] stated that the 26 defendants were not given the opportunity to challenge the evidence against them, and that the guilty verdicts were based on police testimony that did not prove any violence on the part of the protesters. "Courts should be determining individual criminal responsibility and giving each defendant the opportunity to challenge the evidence against them rather than seemingly applying a doctrine of 'someone must pay,'" said EMHRN president Michel Tubiana. HRW also reported instances of police barring activists from attending the trial, in violation of international law. "Just being an activist without any evidence you committed a crime, or even were near the scene, shouldn't get your sentenced to prison," said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Nor should it get you barred from a public trial." The appeals hearing for the nine sentenced on June 18 is scheduled for August 4.
Human Rights Watch, as well as the UN, has been outspoken of late about Algeria's restrictions on its people to organize and demonstrate. In March HRW expressed [JURIST report] concern about Algerian authorities suppressing demonstrations in the weeks leading up to country's April presidential elections. In October 2013 HRW accused [JURIST report] the Algerian government of violating international and domestic law by impinging upon independent trade unions' rights to freely associate and collectively bargain. In September 2012 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged [JURIST report] Algeria to remove restraints on civil society organizations in North Africa while voicing concern that security in the country has negatively impacted human rights. In May 2012 the UN urged [JURIST report] Algeria to use its pending legislative elections to address concerns about inadequate freedoms of expression and association. Specifically, the UN was concerned over a new law that gave the Algerian government broad power in registering groups as associations while restricting their receipt of foreign funding. In December 2011 Algerian lawmakers approved [JURIST report] a controversial media law that restricts journalists from undermining Algeria's sovereignty, national identity, economy and security.