Ex-Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Aziz Naji indicted on mysterious charges in Algeria

August 3, 2010

Ex-Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Aziz Naji indicted on mysterious charges in Algeria following forced repatriation by Obama Administration; grave fears for the safety of British resident Ahmed Belbacha.

The first Guantánamo refugee to be forcibly returned by the Obama Administration to his native Algeria has been indicted on mysterious charges, it was confirmed yesterday.

The Algerian prosecutor’s office reported on Monday that Abdul Aziz Naji was charged with an unspecified offence and is now under ‘judicial supervision’. The news confirms the fears of Guantánamo’s remaining Algerian refugees, who face forced transfer after US courts have refused to protect them.

Held in Guantánamo since 2002, Abdul Aziz Naji was cleared for release but refused to return to Algeria because he was terrified of being abused or killed. He fought his repatriation all the way to the Supreme Court, where he lost his plea after the Obama Administration cited ‘diplomatic assurances’ that Algeria would treat him humanely. The Court’s decision cleared the way for all remaining Algerian Guantánamo refugees to be transferred against their will.

On 18th July the Obama Administration forcibly shipped Naji home and handed him over to the Algerian government, at which point he ‘disappeared’. After initially denying any knowledge of Naji’s whereabouts, the Algerian government finally admitted to having held him in secret detention. They have now laid unspecified charges against him.

Reprieve is extremely concerned about former Bournemouth resident and Algerian refugee Ahmed Belbacha, who is in danger of forced transfer at any time. Ahmed has already been convicted by an Algerian court on unspecified terrorism charges, in his absence, in secret and without legal representation. He faces a lengthy illegal prison term, torture, and persecution if returned to Algeria.

Reprieve is appealing urgently to the governments of Britain, Ireland and Luxembourg for help.

Ahmed’s attorney, Reprieve’s Tara Murray, said: “We know from bitter experience that Guantánamo prisoners cannot trust ‘diplomatic assurances’ from rights-abusing countries like Algeria, and the Obama Administration should have known better. The US has betrayed Abdul Aziz Naji and we are fighting to ensure that our client Ahmed Belbacha does not suffer the same fate. Algeria’s government has a clear grudge against Ahmed and cannot be trusted. Ahmed has repeatedly pleaded for help and we are running out of time. Will the governments of Luxembourg, Ireland and the UK hear his pleas?”

BACKGROUND ON AHMED BELBACHA

Ahmed Belbacha remains a tragic example of the failures of Guantánamo. Cleared of all charges by the Bush Administration, he has consistently chosen to stay imprisoned rather than face his fate in Algeria, a country he originally fled after threats on his life by the terrorist group Group Islamique Armé (GIA).

Ahmed’s fears were confirmed by an alarming ‘conviction’ delivered in absentia by an Algerian court last November. In a disgraceful show trial, the court sentenced Ahmed to 20 years in prison for belonging to an ‘overseas terrorist group’. Despite repeated requests and extensive investigation, Reprieve’s lawyers have been unable to discover what exactly Ahmed is supposed to have done. No evidence has been produced to support his ‘conviction’, which appears to be retaliation against Ahmed for speaking out about human rights abuses in Algeria.

Ahmed’s plight, together with his gentle nature, has attracted private offers of help from both sides of the Atlantic. He has been given a room in a flat by a Bournemouth resident, and the Massachusetts town of Amherst has offered him refuge in defiance of Congress.

So far, however, no government has come to Ahmed’s rescue, and Reprieve has appealed worldwide – to the governments of Britain, Ireland and Luxembourg – for help.

Ahmed lived for years in Bournemouth where he studied English and worked; during a Labour conference he was responsible for cleaning the hotel room of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, from whom he received a healthy tip and note of appreciation. He is now in his ninth year of imprisonment without charge in Guantánamo Bay.

For more information please go to http://www.reprieve.org.uk/ahmedbelbacha.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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Katherine O’Shea

Reprieve

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