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Algeria’s post-Bouteflika crackdown

By Arianna Poletti
Posted on Tuesday, 7 May 2019 21:01, updated on Wednesday, 8 May 2019 10:49

Effigies of Algerian businessman Ali Haddad, former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and Said Bouteflika, brother of former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

Saïd Bouteflika, brother of the deposed Algerian president, and the two former spy chiefs – General Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediene and General Athmane Tartag – were arrested at the weekend in a public show of power by the country’s military chief.

Images of the three pillars of the old establishment in handcuffs blazoned all over TV screens and front pages of the Algerian press sent a strong message from army chief of staff Ahmed Gaïd Salah. A month after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down, protesters are still loudly calling for a purge of the corrupt politicians, oligarchs and generals who propped up the former president’s regime.

The trio are accused of “undermining the authority of the army” and “plotting against the authority of the state” and will be tried by a military court. According to the state TV channel ENTV, they will be tried under articles of both the criminal and military codes.

Hoist by their own petard

As Saïd Bouteflika is a civilian and the two generals have been dismissed from the army, is a military court competent to try them?

Apparently yes. Article 25 of the Code of Military Justice was amended in 2018 to stipulate that, in peacetime, “permanent military courts shall hear special military offences. The perpetrators, co-authors and accomplices of these offences will be brought before military courts, whether or not they are in the military.”

What sentences do they face?

  • According to the Military Code, a “conspiracy to violate the authority of the commander of a military formation” is punishable by five to 10 years in prison. The death penalty could be imposed in the event of a “state of siege or emergency” (Art. 284).
  • They will also be tried on the basis of the Criminal Code, which stipulates that “an attack, with the aim of destroying or changing the regime, either by inciting citizens or inhabitants to arm themselves against the authority of the state or to arm themselves against each other […] shall be punishable by death. […] The execution, or the attempt alone, constitutes an attack” (Art. 77).
  • The following article adds: “A conspiracy to commit the crimes referred to in Article 77, if it has been followed by an act committed, or begun in preparation for its execution, shall be punishable by imprisonment for 10 to 20 years”. That could be divided by two if the preparation of execution has not been started.

Toufik’s warnings

At the end of March, with Saïd’s support, Toufik’s networks had intended to dethrone Salah, by relaunching an old plan: to propose the return of Liamine Zéroual – who retired from the presidency in 1998 – to chair the post-Bouteflika transitional body. But Zéroual refused. Sources say a decree to dismiss the Chief of Staff was ready on 30 March.

As for the accusations of “conspiracy against the army”, Salah has repeatedly accused Toufik of “inciting [people] to hinder solutions to end the crisis”. On 16 April in a speech at the wilaya of Ouargla, Salah said: “I have already mentioned, in my speech of 30 March 2019, the suspicious meetings that are being held in the shadows to conspire around the people’s demands and to hinder the solutions of the National People’s Army and the proposals for ending the crisis. […] I give this person a final warning, and if he persists in his actions, firm legal measures will be taken against him,” without explicitly naming Mohamed Mediène.

A little over two weeks later, the Chief of Staff’s threats were carried out.

This article was first published in Jeune Afrique.

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