Algerian whistleblower jailed after expulsion from Spain | Corruption News
Madrid, Spain – After joining the Algerian border patrol forces in 2013, former gendarme Mohamed Abdellah began to suspect that something was wrong.
Abdellah was an air supervisor on the border patrol helicopters and as such was responsible for the operation of surveillance cameras and surveillance activities across the border between Algeria and Tunisia.
During his tenure as air supervisor, Abdellah claims to have faced widespread corruption, bribes, fraudulent behavior and the smuggling of arms and gasoline across the border, encouraged by senior officers. rank of the Algerian gendarmerie.
Ultimately Abdellah chose to sound the alarm and report what he witnessed to his superiors, but his efforts were wasted.
Today, Abdellah finds himself behind bars in an Algerian detention center in the city of Kolea. He is awaiting his military trial following his sudden extradition from Spain earlier this year, where he requested political asylum.
Abdallah’s case is fraught with complexities, contrasting allegations and takes place in a charged political atmosphere.
His wife told Al Jazeera that by raising the issue with his superiors, he was given two simple choices: either close his eyes and ignore what he saw, or choose to comply and engage in. corruption among the forces.
Instead, Abdellah turned to anti-corruption activists in Algeria and abroad hoping to find support, and leaked information and evidence he had compiled. Sources close to Abdallah told Al Jazeera that he quickly began to receive threats and fear for the safety of his family.
In November 2018, Abdellah fled to Spain with his wife and child, leaving his post in the Algerian National Gendarmerie. He settled in Alicante, in eastern Spain, and applied for political asylum in March 2019.
In exile, Abdellah intensified his activism and became more committed to exposing and denouncing the corruption he encountered in the armed forces. He began to denounce the army and the government through his Youtube and Facebook profiles and gained a substantial audience, gathering more than 265,000 subscribers.
This was not well received by the Algerian authorities who allegedly pronounced him in May 2019 a military indictment for “revealing national defense secrets … [and] insult the President of the Republic ”, according to documents consulted by Al Jazeera.
A year later, an international arrest warrant was issued against Abdellah – among three other prominent critics of the government – on charges of “terrorism”.
The warrant accused Abdellah of “undermining public order, security and the stability of the state,” as well as claiming that he was involved in projects aimed at exploiting the Algerian anti-government movement Hirak and remove it from its “peaceful character”.
From exile to “political expulsion”
During his years in Spain, Abdellah said he suffered regular intimidation and threats from people he claimed to be agents of the Algerian government.
In June 2020, he filed a report with the Spanish police where he denounced having been followed and threatened, being told: “You will pay a high price for what you said. We know that you have applied for asylum in Spain and we will make sure that you do not get it, ”according to the police report seen by Al Jazeera.
On August 3, 2020, it broadcast a live video on Facebook the dissemination of such a case of suspected intimidation. The video has over four million views.
His wife also said she has been followed on numerous occasions, with people showing up at her children’s school, Spanish lessons and at the entrance to their home. She filed a separate police report in August 2020 asking to be relocated for their protection.
On August 12 of this year, while on his way to an appointment to renew his temporary residence permit, Abdellah was informed that his request for political asylum had been rejected and that he was taken into custody and quickly transferred to a foreign internment center in Barcelona.
The Spanish police arrest warrant said Abdallah posed a “significant risk to national security” and claimed he had been in regular contact and received funds from the prominent Algerian dissident. Mohamed Larbi Zitout, one of the leading figures of the anti-government movement Rachad.
On August 21, Abdellah was extradited to Algeria, where he is currently in detention – reportedly held in solitary confinement in a three-story cell underground. His family said his state-appointed lawyers withdrew from the case.
“The Algerian state hopes that by using the” terrorism “card, it can justify the expulsion of Abdallah and other activists from a” democratic “state like Spain, where there should have been concerns as to the potential treatment of Abdallah at the hands of the authorities upon dismissal. in Algeria ”, declared Yasmina Allouche, Algerian journalist and political researcher.
Activists have also raised concerns over Spain’s handling of Abdallah’s extradition, saying he was denied legal protections as a political asylum seeker. In addition, his legal team maintains that the case was handled in a questionable manner and influenced by extra-legal interests.
“We believe Abdallah’s case is clearly a political expulsion,” a representative of his Spanish legal team, who was hired by his family, told Al Jazeera.
“Technically, it is not an extradition but an expulsion, that is to say it goes through the administrative aspect of the law, which does not have the same legal guarantees as the criminal, ”said the lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous.
The legal team questioned the Spanish authorities’ interpretation of international refugee law and highlighted the fact that Abdallah was not offered a period of voluntary departure, nor had the opportunity to invoke his right of non-return as a political refugee, which his legal representatives described as “highly unusual”.
“Abdellah has no criminal record in Spain and the police report is vague and very generic. It is obvious that the expulsion is based on what Algeria said, ”added its legal representative.
Al Jazeera has contacted Algerian and Spanish authorities for comment, but no response has been received.
Doubts have also been cast on the validity of the accusations leveled by the Algerian state against political activists and members of opposition groups, along with Amnesty International. label them “False accusations of terrorism” used to limit dissent.
“There is clearly an intention of the Algerian authorities to cover up their mismanagement of state affairs. What is also worrying is that as the elections approach, we are entering this environment where any opposition, no matter how peaceful, would be considered a disturbance of public order, ”said Zine Ghebouli, an Algerian political analyst.
The Algerian government has come under heavy criticism in recent years for its response to opposition movements such as Hirak and Rachad. The latter has been classified as a terrorist organization by the government in May of this year.
As the Hirak’s momentum intensified, the government’s crackdown on protesters also accelerated. This resulted in the arrest and repression of hundreds of Hirak operatives and government critics, the UN human rights office condemning the “The deterioration of the human rights situation… and the continuing and growing repression against members of the pro-democracy Hirak movement”.
“Protesters, journalists, activists and ordinary citizens have been arbitrarily arrested and unfairly convicted for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” Hassina Oussedik, head of Amnesty in Algeria, told Al Jazeera.
“This year, authorities have used vague interpretations of the criminal code and vague terrorism-related charges to prosecute these individuals. “
Questions have also been raised about the government’s decision to classify Rachad as a terrorist group.
“I don’t see any particular reason to classify them as a terrorist organization, but in Algeria there is a consensus that anyone associated with the Rachad movement will be arrested, and if he is abroad he will be extradited,” he said. declared Ghebouli. .
However, the Rachad movement became more and more divided among the Algerian opposition.
The group is primarily led by leading Islamists and concerns have arisen over the group’s ties to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a former political party heavily involved in Algeria’s turbulent Black Decade, which has made around 200,000. dead.
“The Islamist Rachad has been accused of being another version of the FIS with possible violent tendencies, which few Algerians have the stomach for after the Black Decade. However, these feelings are being manipulated by the regime to deter dissent, ”Allouche said.
Nonetheless, Abdallah’s close relationship with Rachad’s leadership gave the government an excuse to persecute, extradite and detain him.
“It’s a very blurry line at this point. The whole situation is very ambiguous as we don’t have access to everyone’s complete files. It is difficult to assess whether all those arrested are really activists or militants. terrorists. However, there are victims of this rhetoric of security, and when it comes to militants abroad, the case of Mohamed Abdellah serves as an example. is why he was extradited to Algeria, ”Ghebouli said.
Despite the presence of a strong opposition movement such as the Hirak and public dissidents like Abdellah, the outlook remains bleak for those in Algeria who denounce the government.
“The Algerian authorities will only change their behavior when they want and have an interest in doing so – and so far they are not. So at least until the elections, we will see the same behavior, people who protest will be thrown in jail, ”said Ghebouli.