A Damning Indictment of Torture

A Damning Indictment of Torture

Algeria Interface, June 28, 2002

« Dans les geôles de Nezzar » (In the Gaols of Nezzar) is a student’s account of his own experience in a Saharan concentration camp, where he was held without charges for nearly four years. It is a stark damning account of torture and impunity.

Paris, 28/06/02 – Lyes Laribi was a student and union activist at the Bab Ezzouar University of Algiers when he was arrested on suspicion of belonging to a student group with links to the FIS, which denounced the cancelling of the general election in January 1992 which the FIS was poised to win. Today he lives in Paris and has just published a harrowing account of his experience in captivity.

He was held for 44 months, denied all legal rights and continually tortured. In April, shortly after his arrival in France, he filed a suit against former defence minister Khaled Nezzar for crimes of torture.

Very few accounts of life in the prison camps in the Saharan south of Algeria have been published since the outbreak of civil strife in the early 1990s. They were set up by the authorities in the wake of the cancelled elections of January 1992. Thousands of Islamists and suspected sympathisers were held there between 1992 and 1996 in horrific conditions without ever being charged. Lyes Laribi’s book describes life in the camps in detail.

The Algerian media have always shunned the camps in their accounts of civil strife. Only a handful of journalists have ever had the courage to tell the stories of those who were arrested, tortured, held in transit camps, then deported to what were effectively concentration camps thousands of miles from Algiers. There they were held incommunicado for months, even years, for ‘reasons of state’.

Laribi’s story is a damning account which he with spare, precision prose. It brings to light fresh evidence of just how much human rights abuse has gone unpunished. Laribi describes a well-known but taboo side to the war against terrorism and Islamism – torture as systematic, standard practice in police stations and army detention centres.

Most Algerians know full well torture goes and the language of the street has adopted some practice as slang shorthand for police station. The country’s leaders, however, still speak euphemistically of ‘excesses’.

Lyes Laribi, « Dans les geôles de Nezzar » (in French only)
Preface by Addi Lahouari
Editions Paris-Méditérranée
Paris, July 2002.

Djamel Benramdane