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Algeria: Said Bouteflika’s surprising acquittal from his 15 year sentence

By The Africa Report
Posted on Monday, 4 January 2021 16:17

Said Bouteflika in April 2009 during the re-election of his brother to the Algerian presidency (illustrative image). AP/SIPA

Said Bouteflika’s has been acquitted from charges of “conspiracy”, along with Generals Mohamed Mediène (aka “Toufik”) and Athmane Tartag, as well as the Trotskyist activist Louisa Hanoune following an appeal on Saturday 2 January by Blida’s military court, says Khaled Berghel.

Following this surprise decision, Said Bouteflika will be transferred to another prison pending trial in other corruption-related cases, according to a judicial source. He was previously held in a military prison.

Arrested in May 2019, the four defendants were sentenced in September to 15 years imprisonment in a speedy trial at Blida’s military court, near Algiers, for “conspiracy against the authority of the state and the army.”

READ MORE Algeria: Saïd Bouteflika losing the plot in military prison

“After the president of the Military Court of Appeal of Blida presented the case, the defendants Said Bouteflika, Mohamed Mediène, Athmane Tartag and Louisa Hanoune were heard and pleaded not guilty,” said the lawyer. “After deliberation, the court (…) made the decision to overturn the judgment in the first instance and to acquit all the defendants,” he said.

“Destabilisation plan”

This was the third trial in the case. Last November, the Supreme Court had accepted Bouteflika and his co-defendants’ appeal in this “conspiracy” trial and a decision was made to retry the case.

The four acquitted were accused of having met in March 2019 to draw up a “destabilisation plan” for the army high command. It publicly called for President Bouteflika to end the crisis born out of Hirak, the unprecedented popular uprising that forced the former head of state to resign in April 2019.

The 15-year prison sentences of Bouteflika, “Toufik”, the former all-powerful head of the sprawling Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), and his former right-hand man Tartag, who succeeded him, were upheld on appeal in February 2020.

Hanoune, general secretary of the Workers’ Party (PT, Trotskyist), had her sentence reduced from 15 to three years, including nine months in prison. She was released in February 2020.

The fall of the “shadow president”

Bouteflika was the influential special adviser to his brother Abdelaziz during his 20 years as president (1999-2019). He had amassed so much power – as a result of his brother’s declining health, resulting from a stroke in 2013 that left him paralysed and aphasic – to the extent that he was considered the “shadow president.”

After the forced resignation of his brother, Bouteflika was cited in several corruption cases alongside previous oligarchs close to the former Algerian president. Several tycoons of the Bouteflika era were thus heavily condemned, including Ali Haddad, the former head of the main Algerian employers’ organisation, the Business Leaders Forum (FCE).

READ MORE Algeria: 15 years in prison for Saïd Bouteflika, 20 years for Nezzar

Additionally, many Hirak opponents and activists have also been arrested, tried and convicted amidst a climate of repression against opponents, independent media and bloggers.

According to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), an association helping prisoners of conscience, arrests targeting anti-regime activists are occurring daily despite the cessation of weekly Hirak demonstrations since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the CNLD, more than 90 people are currently detained in Algeria for acts related to protest and individual freedoms.