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Tunisia urged to probe ‘kidnapping’, disappearance, expulsion of refugee

TUNIS: Amna Guellali, Deputy Director for the MENA region of Amnesty International, poses for a photograph during an interview with AFP in her home in the Tunisian capital Tunis, on September 1, 2021. —AFP

TUNIS: Rights group Amnesty International has called on Tunisia to investigate the “extremely serious” return to Algeria of political activist Slimane Bouhafs, who it said had refugee status in Tunisia. Late Wednesday, an Algerian rights group said he had been placed under a judicial committal order. According to Amnesty and some 40 other rights groups, the Algerian disappeared from his home in Tunis on August 25 “in mysterious circumstances”. Citing Algerian media, the groups said Tunisian authorities had handed the 54-year-old over to Algeria to face court.

Amnesty’s Amna Guellali said Bouhafs reappeared in Algiers on August 28 or 29, “several days after his forced disappearance”. She told AFP it was imperative Tunisia carry out an “impartial and thorough” investigation into “the circumstances of the kidnapping, forced disappearance and expulsion of Slimane Bouhafs to Algeria, despite his political refugee status”. Bouhafs was a “prisoner of conscience” who had spent two years in prison “simply because he wrote things on his Facebook page that the Algerian authorities didn’t like”, she said.

She said the matter was “extremely serious” as it impacts a person who had obtained political refugee status, demonstrating “that he faced persecution in his country”. Bouhafs was sentenced to jail in 2016 for “insulting Islam”. He has also been active in the Movement for Self-determination of Kabylie (MAK), which Algeria considers a “terrorist” organization. Algeria’s CNLD prisoners’ rights group said later Wednesday that Bouhafs had been placed under a committal order.

Separately, Algeria’s Human Rights League (LADDH) has called on the UN refugee agency in Algiers to intervene in the matter, adding that Bouhafs should benefit from “the protection of the international convention on the rights of refugees, ratified by Tunisia and Algeria”. Tunisian rights groups said the UN gave Bouhafs refugee status in September last year. “The Slimane Bouhafs affair is an ominous sign for rights and freedoms in Tunisia, given that he is a political refugee whose rights have been completely violated,” Guellali said.—AFP

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