|Human Rights Violations > Massacres|
Survivors' Testimony of the Prison Transfer Tragedy
Transfer Tragedy of Relizane
(27 died asphyxiated during the transfer)
Algeria-Watch, 1998, Tranlation from french
We were 66 detainees at the prison of Tizi-Ouzou to be chosen on the 24 th June 1997 to be transferred to another prison. We ignored which one at the time, and in any case most of us were on the verge of finishing our full gaol sentences. For some there was only one or two months left, so what was the point of this transfer?
We were taken early that morning in two container vans, tied to each other with handcuffs. We were around 33 per van. After approximately two and a half hours on the road, we arrived at the prison of El-Harrach, which we believed was to be our final destination. In actual fact we spent the rest of the day in a cell and the next morning we were told to go out, as we were being transferred together with the detainees of El-Harrach. They were taken to a coach while we returned to our 'containers', still around 33 of us in each one.
We left at around 8 in the morning. The heat was already stifling, and the handcuffs were so tight that they were hurting our wrists. So on the 25 th June 1997 we were travelling towards an unknown destination, although it was confirmed that we were travelling west. Of course we could see absolutely nothing outside the van. After two or three hours, there was a break when we stopped to the side of the road. We were stationary for a long time, and the heat became unbearable in the 'container'. We overheard the guards speaking with the police escorts saying that 'the coach of El-Harrach has broken down'. We began to feel suffocated in the container, where the heat was horrendous. We started to bang against the steel walls. There was no response from outside although they were right there and if we could hear them then they must also have been able to hear us. After half an hour, they insulted us and told us to shut up. Then we started off again. At least there was air when the van was rolling. We could breath.
But near Chlef we stopped again, this time for longer. The heat became even more suffocating. We could not stand it anymore. We shouted as loud as we could and banged on the sides of the container. Of course, in the compartment provided for the guards there had been no one since the beginning of the journey and we complained about the absence of guards in the van because everyone knows this is against the regulations. Even though the driver and his escorts could hear us, they refused to open the door, even just to let some air in for a while. On the contrary, only insults and laughter reached us from the outside. Some of us began to faint and to lose consciousness. This is what hell is.
We shouted to the policemen and guards that someone had died.
"Eat him and make a touiza"
"If you know how to pray, pray for him."
And other such words.
After an hour that went by like eternity, most of us were too weak to talk or complain. We were all in a semi-conscious haze. We all thought we were going to die like this.
When the van eventually started up again, many had lost consciousness. Only once it stopped we knew we had arrived to the prison grounds. The door opened, our handcuffs were taken off. A few had bloodied wrists. We were haggard and the majority did not even have the strength to stand up.
The insults poured down upon us, and the first ones who got out of the van were welcomed by punches from the guards. They fell to the ground but there was something strange happening in the other container van of our comrades. The blows stopped. I noticed they could not open the door of the container. They were no longer preoccupied with us. When they finally managed to open it, no one got off. The chief asked for basins of water to be brought and the guards began to throw water in the van.
After a while a rumour spread that they were all dead except a few who managed to get off and lie down on the ground. I counted six comrades. They were soaked by the guards with basins of water. A policeman went out of the van and said "We have killed them".
We were evacuated and I could not see anything else. We were not informed of the fate of our comrades for many weeks. It was only after two months that the six survivors were allowed to join us again and that the truth began to unravel. They recounted the hell they went through. It was the same as the one we went through, except that in their container even the exterior ventilation vents were blocked and the guards refused to open them to let some air in. In the second van there were 27 dead and six survivors whose names are known.
The survivors were kept in solitary confinement for two months, forbidden to communicate with anyone.
We later found out that our friends were all buried at the Mostaganem cemetery.
Of course for us there is no doubt whatsoever that this consisted of a premeditated and criminal act.
We also learnt from the guards that Rezag Bara (President of the ONDH - the National Observatory of Human Rights) visited the prison after this drama and it was he who gave the order for the survivors to be isolated so that the news could not spread. Below are the names of the prisoners who died. There were two people whose names are unknown.