Algerian official denies existence of secret prisons, use of torture

The Associated Press, Herald Tribune,Published: November 3, 2007

ALGIERS, Algeria: An Algerian official denied Saturday allegations the country practices torture and has secret detention centers, and said the United Nation's committee that made the charges was trying to stain Algeria's reputation.

A report by the U.N. Human Rights Committee said several non-governmental organizations had information about the existence of a network of secret detention centers in Algeria. In the report — which was part of a periodic review of human rights in Algeria and was released on Thursday — the committee said it was "worried" about the allegations.

It also "noted with worry" and other information about the use of torture and degrading treatment — particularly by Algeria's anti-terrorism unit.

Farouk Ksentini, who heads Algeria's National Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, "categorically" and "formally" denied the charges.

Speaking on national radio, Ksentini said the report was "full of fabrications" and that it amounted to "buffoonery."

"All Algerian prisons have always been open to the International Committee of the Red Cross," he said, adding that the organization "regularly writes reports in which it is shown and established that things couldn't happen more correctly" in Algerian prisons.

The U.N. committee's report was a bid to "attack Algeria's reputation," Ksentini said.

It was not the first time that Algerian authorities faced allegations that torture is practiced in the country.

A 2006 report on human rights practices by the U.S. State Department noted that Algeria's security forces have been accused of torturing suspects. The report cites international and local rights groups.

Lawyers for an Algerian man who has been held for more than five years at the United States detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have fought to stop his extradition to his home country, citing fears he would be tortured there.

Algeria has been working to quell sporadic violence linked to an insurgency that broke out in 1992 after the army canceled legislative elections that an Islamic party was set to win. As many as 200,000 people have died in the resulting violence.

While large-scale violence died down in the 1990s, scattered attacks by al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, an re-branded former Salafist militant group, have increased in recent months.

 
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