Interface Interview: Lyes Laribi

Interface Interview: Lyes Laribi

Algeria Interface, June 28, 2002

Paris, 28/06/02 Lyes Laribi is to publish a book describing how he was arbitrarily detained and tortured in the mid-1990s. He believes Khaled Nezzar, defence minister at the time, must be held accountable.

You have published a damning indictment of torture and you are one of the plaintiffs who brought a suit against him in France in April 2001. Why Nezzar exactly?
I don’t know Khaled Nezzar personally but at the time I he was defence minister and a member of the High State Council [which ran the country between 1992 and 1994 after the army cancelled elections the FIS was poised to win]. He was therefore the most senior ranking politician and military man. I believe I’m now entitled to demand an explanation as to why I was arrested, detained arbitrarily and tortured. Nezzar has never denied such goings-on which were all the work of institutions and officials that he was in charge of, especially the army. Which makes him responsible. When the state of emergency was declared in 1992 the army controlled everything…All the places I was held in were army-controlled, the gendarmerie is a military corps, the In M’guel detention centre in the Sahara was run by the army, Blida Prison is a military prison…

You book will be published just when Nezzar’s libel case against Habib Souaidia opens.
Nobody even knew I was working on the book until a week ago. I actually started writing in detention. I wanted to bring out to tell public opinion just who this man is and the court case will help me inform people about went on all those years I spent in detention.

What’s your view of the torture case filed against Nezzar in April 2001 and the way he fled Paris ?
For me the way he fled was a sort of confession, but I don’t want to talk about the court case, that’s getting into politics. All I want to do is talk about my experience, I won’t keep quiet about it. I bring proof that can’t be denied and Nezzar can’t prove anything against me. My arrest can’t be explained rationally. I was held without charge and tortured for four years. That’s a fact and there’s nothing the lies in the Algerian papers can do to change that. El Watan and Le Soir d’Algérie say that I was involved in terrorist acts between 1993 and 1995. But I was in prison at the time. That’s serious misinformation, the press never checked its sources. At the same time FIS leaders like El Hachemi Sahnouni met and talked to terrorist in the mountains, but nobody ever bothered them. Why is what I want to know.

One of the three plaintiffs in the torture case against Nezzar, Abdelouahab Boukezouha, pulled out after his son was arrested in Algiers. What do you think?
No comment.

You were released six years ago. Why have you waited so long to speak out about torture?
I didn’t arrive in France until 2000. I only took me five months to file a suit against Nezzar…You know everyone knows what goes on in Algeria and I believe there is a conspiracy of silence between states. There have been 200,000 deaths, there has been torture, disappearances. Look at all the missing people. In Algiers their relatives demonstrate in the street. Most of them were tortured, then executed for fear they would talk, and everybody knows that went on. Torture didn’t start with terrorism. People suspected of ordinary crimes are tortured in police station…It’s standard practice…So just imagine if you’re an Islamist or suspected of belonging to a terrorist group. It’s horrific, torturers even rip people’s eyes out.

In your book you talk about how you were arrested a second time five years after you were tortured. This time the interrogation wasn’t brutal, as if there was a glimmer of hope.
I was arrested in 2000 and taken to a police station the Belouizdad neighbourhood of Algiers. I braced myself for some tough treatment, but the police commissioner was a woman. She just listened to me and heard me out. She was fair and she released me. I would never have imagined that you could find someone like that in a police station. I’d been taken to the same police station when I was arrested the first time a few years previously and there was a kid, maybe 15, in the cell. He was black and blue from the beating he’d taken and he was scared. His father was in the next cell. The policeman had tried to get him to tell them where his brother was, they suspected him of being a terrorist. But not his kid, he was innocent. If that woman had been there, things would have been different.

What has become of the other detainees in the Saharan prison camps and Blida Prison?
Eighty of us were taken from Ain M’guel in the desert to the military jail in Blida. One of them, Ahmed Bouamra [former soldier turned Islamist guerrilla leader], was taken way at Blida and we never saw him again. Eight others went underground on their release and probably joined some armed group. Most of us, about 70 people in all, just got with their lives, despite all they’d been through.

Interviewed by Djamel Benramdane