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

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.”


French FM holds Iraq talks on Daesh prisoners in Syria

Updated 48 min 19 sec ago

French FM holds Iraq talks on Daesh prisoners in Syria

  • One of the issues is Iraq’s use of death penalty, which is outlawed throughout EU
  • Several EU countries sent technical missions to Baghdad to assess the situation

BAGHDAD: France’s top diplomat held talks in Baghdad on Thursday about transferring foreign militants from northern Syria, where a Turkish offensive has triggered fears of mass jailbreaks, to be tried in Iraq.
European governments are worried that the Turkish operation will allow the escape of some of the 12,000 suspected Daesh group fighters — including thousands of foreigners — held by Syrian Kurds.
The issue was top of the agenda for French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in his talks with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Ali Al-Hakim, President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
“We need to work things out with the Iraqi authorities so that we can find a way to have a judicial mechanism that is able to judge all these fighters, including obviously the French fighters,” Le Drian told French TV channel BFM on Wednesday.
The aim is for foreign militants to be tried in Iraqi courts while upholding certain principles of justice and respect for human rights, a French diplomatic source said.
One issue will be Iraq’s use of the death penalty, which is outlawed throughout the EU.
Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden sent officials on a technical mission to Baghdad this week to assess the situation.
“There are talks between the Americans, the British, French and Iraqis about funding the construction of prisons,” Hisham Al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on Daesh, told AFP.
Hundreds of foreigners have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment in Iraq for belonging to Daesh.
Eleven French militants handed over to Iraqi authorities early this year by US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria were sentenced to death by a court in Baghdad.
In April, Iraq offered to try foreign Daesh suspects in exchange for operational costs.
One Iraqi official said Baghdad had requested $2 billion to put the suspects on trial.
Turkey on Monday accused Kurdish forces of deliberately releasing Daesh prisoners held at a prison in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad “in an attempt to fuel chaos in the area.”
Kurdish officials claimed that Turkish bombardments had allowed nearly 800 relatives of foreign Daesh fighters to escape from a camp for the displaced.
According to the Kurdish administration, there are around 12,000 suspected Daesh fighters in the custody of Kurdish security forces across northeastern Syria.
At least 2,500 of them are non-Iraqi foreigners of more than 50 different nationalities. Tunisia is thought to have the biggest contingent.
Officials in Paris say 60 to 70 French nationals are among those held.
The rest are around 4,000 Syrians and roughly the same number of Iraqis.
The fighters, who were detained mostly in the course of operations led by Kurdish forces and backed by the US-led coalition against Daesh, are detained in at least seven facilities.
Western governments such as France have been reluctant to take them back, for lack of a clear legal framework and fears of a public backlash.
Le Drian said Wednesday that the security of Kurdish-run prisons holding suspected militants in northern Syria was “currently” not threatened by the Turkish military operation.