Mohand Kadi and Moez Benncir are two young activists from Algeria and Tunisia who believe in democracy and in change and who have been jailed in Algiers prison since April 16. Their crime: Having the misfortune of sipping a coffee on a terrace at the center of the Algerian capital when opposition movement Barakat! (Enough!) was staging one of its peaceful demonstrations, just one day before presidential elections.
Kadi and Benncir appeared in front of Sidi M’hamed tribunal judges in Algiers on May 11. The prosecutor called for at least one year of unsuspended prison term against them. They are accused of “unarmed gathering likely to disturb public peace.” Moez is also accused of staying illegally in Algeria.
A decision on their case is scheduled to be issued on May 18. Meanwhile, they will spend several more days in one of the cells of Serkadji Prison, a facility known for housing people convicted of terrorism.
Moreover, a lawyer’s collective was established to defend Kadi and Benncir. “These two youngsters didn’t even take part any demonstration or gathering. They were arrested while sitting on an Algerian cafe terrace. They were taken in for questioning for the simple reason that they are members of the organization Rassemblement Action Jeunesse.” The Youth Action Assembly, also known as RAJ, is a network of young people working to defend civil liberties and promote youth rights in Algeria.
Abdelghani Badi, a lawyer, staunch defender of human rights, and member of the collective explains, “their trial is a political one.” Badi is working to help the two activists, who have been incarcerated for more than 25 days.
For Badi, this case is a first in of its kind in recent Algerian history. “They were jailed before even being sentenced. No article in the law stipulates preventive detention for persons who took part in a gathering. No legal proceeding has been respected in this case,” Badi says, disparagingly. He adds that the Algerian regime is using Kadi and Benncir as scapegoats to frighten the other activists. “Algerian authorities are trying to instill fear so as to prevent young Algerians from demanding their rights and protesting peacefully in the country. During the trial, the judge interrogated Mohand and Moez at length on their ties with the “Barakat!” movement and with RAJ, as if adhering to a civil society organization or to a citizen collective represented a violation of the law.”
Pending the verdict on May 18, a large online and offline campaign was launched in support of Mohand Kadi and Moez Benncir in demand of their immediate release. A collective Facebook account under the nickname “collectif Libération Mohand Moez”- “Freedom for Mohand Moez” was created in order to heighten the Algerian public opinion on the fate of these youngsters. Mustapha Benfodil, Algerian journalist and author spoke of a Kafkaesque trial: “We are the only country in the world to call the ‘act of two young people sitting in a cafe’ an ‘illegal demonstration,’” he argued.
The case of Mohand Kadi and Moez Benncir has gained attention beyond Algeria. Several international NGOs such as Amnesty International, EuromedRights, Avaaz, Human Right Watch [fr] and many others expressed publicly their indignation and called for the activitists’ release and for the end of their judicial harassment. It remains to be seen if the Algerian regime will yield to this internal and external pressure on May 18. In the meantime, Mohand Kadi and Moez Benncir will continue spending their nights behind bars.