Algerian rights lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi, a leading voice for change

Algerian lawyer Mostefa Bouchachi speaks during an interview in Algiers on April 14, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 16 April 2019
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Algerian rights lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi, a leading voice for change

  • Bouchachi found himself labelled a “lawyer of the Islamists” for defending victims of torture and arbitrary arrests during Algeria’s civil war of 1992-2002
  • He was recognized as a mentor to demonstrators who have mobilized against “the system” and forced long-time ruler Bouteflika to step down

ALGIERS: Emotion filled the voice of Mustapha Bouchachi as the Algerian veteran lawyer and human rights activist recalled the peaceful mass protests that swept aside President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The young protesters “are finishing what my generation failed to do,” said the man who became a mentor to demonstrators who have mobilized against “the system.”
Bouchachi, in his mid-60s, has been careful not to try to “seize” the youth-driven movement even as he helped formulate its demands, notably in Facebook video clips that exceeded 200,000 views.
Whether speaking in his old-fashioned Algiers office or addressing university students, he has been tireless in explaining the goals of what he calls the “revolution of smiles.”
“I am proud that many Algerians trust me, but this is the demonstration of young people,” he told AFP, refusing the status of spokesman for the activists who ended Bouteflika’s two-decade reign on April 2.
“We can accompany and give advice, but we must not steal” their movement, he said.
Bouchachi’s eyes filled with tears as he recalled his amazement when crowds of Algerians began to peacefully take to the streets on February 22.
“I was so afraid that there would be no-one, that we would just be a few thousand, isolated, like in 2011,” he said, referring to the Arab Spring uprisings that started in Tunisia but largely bypassed Algeria.
This time around, he admitted, “I cried with joy,” his grave face transforming into a deep smile.
He pointed to Algeria’s 1962 independence from French colonial rule and said: “I told myself that it is these young people who will finish liberating the country, because our fathers liberated the land of Algeria but the people were not free.”
Bouchachi was seven years old when his father was killed fighting in the independence war.
When asked whether he has a political bias, Bouchachi replied without hesitation: “democracy.”
“You can’t have politics in a totalitarian regime,” he said. “All politicians must campaign for the rule of law, this is the priority. Only after that we can have debates between left and right.”
Bouchachi studied law in Britain on a scholarship and graduated at the age of 25.
After defending victims of torture and arbitrary arrests during Algeria’s civil war of 1992-2002, he found himself labelled a “lawyer of the Islamists.”
But he stressed that he is “not selective in the fight against human rights violations,” adding that “now I am being labelled a secular leftist.”

Mustapha Bouchachi, a rights activist and lawyer, marches with others during a protest to demand the immediate resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria on March 23, 2019. (REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina/File Photo)


From 2007 to 2012, he was president of the Algerian League for Human Rights, at a time when the regime was using a mix of repression and social measures to pre-empt street protests.
He was elected to parliament in 2012 for the Front of Socialist Forces, on the promise of having “a forum to question ministers.”
But when he found his questions remained unanswered, Bouchachi left the legislature in 2014 to go back to his legal practice.
In recent weeks he returned to the political scene where, backed by his four student children, he has been hammering home the message of non-violence.
“Our only weapon is the peaceful nature of the demonstrations,” he told students.
Bouchachi has also urged young people to resist the temptation of wanting to sweep away all politicians and officials, including those in the opposition.
“You have to aim at the heads of the system,” he said. “When they are gone, then we can get organized.”
He now hopes for “nine months or a year of transition,” a process he said must include youth who took the lead in the street protests as well as opposition parties, civil society and political leaders from the pre-Bouteflika era.
As for the army, he said, “you have to be pragmatic. It’s a strong institution, we need them for the transition. But they must accompany, not interfere in, the people’s affairs.”


Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

Updated 41 min 3 sec ago
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Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

  • The bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen
  • Govt forces detained the bird on suspicion that the attached GPS tracker was a spy device for Houthi militants

SANAA: Griffon vulture Nelson crossed into war-torn Yemen in search of food but ended up in the hands of Yemeni fighters — and temporarily in jail for suspected espionage.
The sand-colored bird came down in the country’s third city of Taiz, an unusual move for a young vulture that can soar for long distances across continents in search of food and moderate weather.
Nelson, approximately two years old, embarked on his journey in September 2018 from Bulgaria, where his wing was tagged and equipped with a satellite transmitter by the Fund for Wild Fauna and Flora (FWFF).
But he seems to have lost his way, eventually coming down into Taiz — under siege by Houthi rebels but controlled by pro-government forces, who mistook Nelson’s satellite transmitter for an espionage device and detained the bird.
Forces loyal to the government believed that the GPS tracker attached to the bird may have been a spy device for the rebels.
Hisham Al-Hoot, who represents the FWFF in Yemen, traveled from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Taiz to plead with local officials to release the helpless animal.
“It took about 12 days to get the bird,” he told AFP.
“The Bulgarian foreign ministry reached out to the Yemeni ambassador, who in turn contacted local officials (in Taiz) and told them to immediately give the organization the vulture.”
Hoot said that the bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen — where the FWFF lost track of the bird.
Nelson was MIA until April 5, when the conservation group received hundreds of messages from Yemenis concerned about the creatures’ welfare.
Today, the locally-famous vulture is being properly fed and getting stronger every day.
“When we first took him, he was in very bad condition,” said Hoot, adding that the bird was underweight.
Smiling, he puts on gloves and carefully handles the majestic creature — blowing it a kiss.
Hoot said the bird will be released in two months when he believed Nelson will have regained his full strength and his wing — broken somewhere during his journey — will have healed.
“We thought at first it would take six months for him to heal, but now we don’t think it will be more than two months,” he said.
Hoot said that Nelson was not able to find any source of sustenance in Yemen.
“They can eat carcasses of dead animals, but now there is no more with the current situation of war.
“This is what forced him to come down and stopped him from completing his journey.”
The four-year conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with millions facing famine.
The war escalated in March 2015 when a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened to bolster the efforts of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Since then, at least 10,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization. Other rights groups estimate the toll could be much higher.