Algeria 'banning' diaspora activists from returning to Canada, human rights groups say
Algeria has imposed travel bans on Algerian-Canadian activists with links to the North African country's mass protest movement from flying home, two international human rights groups said on Friday.
Between January and April of this year, Lazhar Zouaimia, Hadjira Belkacem, and a third person, who asked not to be named for security reasons, were prevented by the Algerian authorities from returning to their homes in Canada and interrogated about their links to the Hirak protest movement, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The three activists said that they had not been notified of any legal basis for the travel restrictions.
"It is appalling that the Algerian authorities are preventing activists from going back to their country of residence, without even providing a legal basis for this refusal or a written justification," said Amna Guellali, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International.
"All arbitrary travel bans should immediately be lifted."
Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said: "These unjustified measures put diaspora Algerians who go home to visit in a precarious situation with no clear legal remedies."
After arriving in Algeria in January, Lazhar Zouaimia tried twice - in February and in April - to leave the country and return to Canada. He was held at the airports and interrogated both times.
After his attempt to leave Algeria in February, Zouaimia was charged with "harming the integrity of the national territory" - an accusation Amnesty and HRW said is vague and has been used extensively by the authorities to punish Hirak activists.
Zouaimia spent five weeks in detention before a court provisionally released him pending his trial, the rights groups said. He was finally allowed to leave Algeria on Thursday.
Twice-weekly Hirak protests rocked major cities across the North African nation starting in early 2019, forcing Bouteflika to step down months later.
The protests continued to demand deep reforms to the country's governing system, until the coronavirus pandemic forced their suspension.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune last month pardoned over 1,000 convicts and ordered "clemency measures" for 70 people detained over links to the country's Hirak protest movement, to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.