Algeria Rules Out Terrorism in Mali Plane Crash

Algiers — Algeria ruled out terrorism as the cause of the plane crash that killed 118 people last Thursday in northern Mali.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal on Saturday (July 26th)...

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Protesters Convicted in Apparently Unfair Trial

Paris — Algerian activists and others convicted on charges of holding an "armed gathering" and violence against the police appear to have been convicted after an unfair trial in...

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Chinese Leaders Extend Condolences to Algerian, French Counterparts Over Plane Crash

Beijing — Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have respectively extended condolences to their Algerian and French counterparts over the crash of the Air Algerie flight AH5017,...

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Algeria Rules Out Terrorism in Mali Plane Crash

Algiers — Algeria ruled out terrorism as the cause of the plane crash that killed 118 people last Thursday in northern Mali.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal on Saturday (July 26th) said that “targeting the plane with a missile at a height of 10,000 metres is difficult and requires sophisticated equipment”.

The Air Algerie plane leased from Spanish company Swiftair disappeared July 24th in bad weather less than an hour after leaving Ougadougou for a 4-hour flight to Algiers.

There had been concerns that the plane might have been brought down by terrorists, especially as the disaster occurred soon after violence erupted at the Tripoli airport.

The day before the plane crash, El Khabar reported that Algeria had closed air corridors for civilian planes to and from Libya.

The disappearance of at least 11 civilian planes at the Tripoli airport reportedly prompted the decision.

Algerian authorities were said to have been concerned that following the clashes at the airport between rival Libyan militias, the missing planes could end up in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups for use in terror attacks.

Now that the wreckage has been found, a formal investigation will reveal the cause of the accident. Algerian Transport Minister Amar Ghoul said.

“No judgment can be made about the cause of the plane crash,” he said.

He added, however, that “initial analyses by technicians and experts” supported the “bad weather theory”.

Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and France joined Algeria in the search for the plane. Rescue teams located one of the two black boxes Friday morning. The United Nations mission in Mali (MINUSMA) found the other on Saturday.

An armed group in Mali was the first to report the location of the ill-fated craft, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said.

Algeria seized the chance of the presence of some Touareg groups and Malian officials for the Algiers peace talks to ask for help in searching for the plane, the minister told reporters.

President Bouteflika on Friday declared three days of mourning and was following the case closely, Lamamra said.

He noted that a high-ranking Algeria delegation went to Mali to follow up on the case.

Meanwhile, the Algerian judiciary on Saturday said that in co-operation with other countries, it would conduct an investigation into the cause of the crash.

Air Algerie reported the plan carried 50 French, 24 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, six Algerian, six Spanish, five Canadian, four German and two Luxembourg nationals.

“The plane just broke into piece as it crashed,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a radio interview on Saturday.

“We believe the plane crashed because of bad weather conditions, although no theory can be ruled out for the time being,” he added.

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Protesters Convicted in Apparently Unfair Trial

Paris — Algerian activists and others convicted on charges of holding an “armed gathering” and violence against the police appear to have been convicted after an unfair trial in which they were unable to challenge the evidence against them, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and Human Rights Watch said today. Based on the written judgment, the lower court seems to have centered its verdict on police testimony that did not set out evidence implicating any individual defendants in alleged violence during a demonstration in the southern city of Laghouat on June 8, 2014.

A court in Laghouat found all 26 defendants guilty on June 18 after a one-day trial, sentencing nine of them to six months in prison and the other 17 in absentia to two years in prison. Most of those convicted in absentia are well-known local activists who denied participating in the demonstration.

“Courts should be determining individual criminal responsibility and giving each defendant the opportunity to challenge the evidence against them rather than seemingly applying a doctrine of ‘someone must pay,’ ” said Michel Tubiana, EMHRN president.

After the Laghouat court convicted the group, four of the defendants tried in absentia turned themselves in while two others were arrested. All exercised their right to a new trial, and the court, in separate new trials, acquitted them for lack of evidence, their lawyer, Noureddine Ahmine, told the EMHRN and Human Rights Watch.

Djilali Ben Safieddine, one of the 17 defendants sentenced in absentia, told EMHRN and Human Rights Watch that he was nowhere near the June 8 protest, had not been informed that he was charged, and never received a summons to appear for the trial. Ben Safieddine, a private security guard and a member of the Defense Committee of the Rights of Unemployed in Laghouat, has avoided arrest and went into hiding.

Another local activist, Mohamed Rag, was arrested on June 30 near his house in Laghouat and placed in pretrial detention pending his retrial. He was acquitted on July 13.

The appeals hearing for the nine sentenced on June 18 is scheduled for August 4.

Aissa Dahb, an activist who participated in the June 8 protest, told EMHRN and Human Rights Watch that about 20 people from local civil society groups had gathered that day in front of the governorate to protest the way the government selects recipients of public housing units.

He said the group tried to talk to the mayor, who refused to receive them. The group then went to the headquarters of the governorate to try to meet with the governor, who also refused to meet with them. Dahb said that six or seven security agents guarding the governorate assaulted El Taher Yacoub, one of local activists, clubbing him on the head, leading to clashes with security agents. Afterward, police reinforcements arrived, he said.

Dahb said that following these clashes, Yacoub and another member of the group, Ben Safieddine Khamisati, went to the police to file a complaint against the officers who they said beat them. Dahb followed them in his own car and saw Khamisati, Yacoub, and a third protester, Mohamed Ziyadi, enter the police station. After some time, he learned that they had been arrested.

Ahmine, who is representing all of the accused, said that in reaching the guilty verdict, the judges relied only on statements by security force agents that protesters had injured them. Ahmine said that none of the evidence identified any defendant as directly participating in any act of violence or property damage.

The written judgment also cites no evidence incriminating the defendants individually. It states that 22 police officers filed complaints and gave written testimony alleging that they were victims of protester violence. During the June 18 hearing, judges heard three police officers out of the 22. They described the general circumstances but did not identify any of the accused as someone who committed a violent act.

Several of the accused admitted participating in the protest but denied they engaged in any act of violence. In its judgment, the court cited the evidence of violence, such as police statements and complaints, photos of broken windows, and the prosecutor’s description of the material damage, but without citing any evidence tying the violence to any of the accused.

In addition, Ahmine said, police undermined the public nature of the hearing by singling out activists and refusing to allow them into the courtroom. The courtroom was not full, and there was no reason to prevent the activists from attending the trial, Ahmine said.

Dhab also told EMHRN and Human Rights Watch that the police prevented him and others from entering the courtroom.

Barring selected people from the courtroom contravenes article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “Everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

“Just being an activist without any evidence you committed a crime, or even were near the scene, shouldn’t get you sentenced to prison,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Nor should it get you barred from a public trial.”

Chinese Leaders Extend Condolences to Algerian, French Counterparts Over Plane Crash

Beijing — Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have respectively extended condolences to their Algerian and French counterparts over the crash of the Air Algerie flight AH5017, in which all the 118 people aboard were killed.

In a message sent on Friday to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Xi said he was shocked to learn of the tragedy.

“On behalf of the Chinese government and people, I hereby extend profound condolences to all the victims, and express heartfelt sympathy to the bereft families,” Xi said.

In another message sent to French President Francois Hollande on the same day, Xi said he was shocked to learn of the disaster, in which dozens of French passengers were killed.

“The Chinese people have deep feelings toward the French people. Our hearts are with the French people at the moment,” he said.

Operated by Algeria’s flagship carrier, the MD-83 plane with 112 passengers and six Spanish crew members, crashed in the Malian border town of Gossi Thursday after taking off from the Ouagadougou airport in Burkina Faso. Some 54 French nationals were among the dead.

Also on Friday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sent messages of condolence to Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and his French counterpart Manuel Valls over the deadly crash.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also extended condolences to his Algerian and French counterparts, Ramtane Lamamra and Laurent Fabius, respectively, over the mishap.