Cleared Guantánamo detainee Abdul Aziz Naji imprisoned by Algeria after forced return by US

January 26, 2012

Image of Guantanamo guard tower with sun rising in background

An Algerian citizen who was detained for eight years in Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial has been imprisoned again, after the US authorities returned him to Algeria despite his pleas that he would face arbitrary detention there.

Abdul Aziz Naji, who is suffering from serious health complications due to the amputation of his leg, was cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo by the Obama administration in 2010. However, having been forcibly returned to his home country against his will, he has now (as he feared) been sentenced to yet more time in prison on the basis of trumped-up charges. 

Last week, Algerian authorities sentenced him to three years in prison on a charge of past membership in an extremist group overseas—a charge derived from the unsubstantiated accusations the US administration made against him in 2002.

During his trial held in Algiers on Monday 16 January, the prosecutor presented no evidence of Mr Naji’s guilt—rather, the judge simply questioned him and produced a guilty verdict. His lawyer, Hassiba Boumerdassi, filed an appeal of his sentence and will request that he be released on bail pending retrial.

Mr. Naji is being held in the notorious El Harache prison in Algiers, where violent abuse of prisoners has been reported by Amnesty International. His family is deeply concerned about his rapidly deteriorating health, and his lawyer reports that his condition has become critical and is worsening by the day.

He has not had access to adequate medical treatment while in prison. Mustafa Bouchachi, the president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, visited Mr Naji in prison on Wednesday and attested to Mr Naji’s critical health condition.

He reports that Mr. Naji is on hunger strike as “the only way that he has to protest his unjust treatment—first by the US authorities in Guantánamo and now in his own country.” Mr Naji further explained that his imprisonment in Algeria is bringing back to him his horrible and unjustified years in Guantánamo.

Reprieve’s Life After Guantanamo Caseworker, Katie Taylor, said: “It is outrageous that Mr Naji is being punished again for the same discredited accusations that the US used to hold him in Guantanamo for eight years without charge or trial—this time in his own country. Algerian authorities must restore his right to a fair trial and overturn his conviction on faulty charges for which the prosecutor did not even bother to introduce evidence.”


Notes to editors:

1. For further information please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0) 20 7427 1082 / (0) 7791 755 415

2. Abdul Aziz Naji is represented in the US by Ellen Lubell and Doris Tennant at Tennant Lubell LLC. The following profile was prepared by his counsel and the Center for Constitutional Rights:Mr. Naji was born in Batna, Algeria in 1975. After sixth grade, he began work in his father’s blacksmith shop and later completed his required military service in the Algerian Army. After his service, Mr. Naji, like many young Muslims, travelled to Mecca on pilgrimage and then, during early 2001, worked briefly with a reputable Pakistani charity, providing humanitarian assistance to needy Muslims and Christians in Kashmir. Offering to volunteer his services was important to his religious beliefs. While carrying food and clothing to poor villages one night with a group of other volunteers, Mr. Naji stepped on a landmine (one of many unexploded ordnance that lace the region) and sustained a serious injury, resulting in the loss of his lower right leg. He was taken to a hospital in Lahore, Pakistan where he was treated for several months and fit with a prosthetic leg. He spent many months after that in rehabilitation, living with a few generous families in the city who offered to board him. An amputee with few resources and in need of the most basic assistance, Mr. Naji was directed by acquaintances to an Algerian in Peshawar to help find a wife. While visiting this man in May 2002, he and his host were arrested during a raid of the man’s house by Pakistani police, one of the many house raids in the area. The reason for the arrests was never explained. In fact, the Pakistanis told Mr. Naji that they would release him. But instead, he was taken by Americans stationed in Peshawar and transferred first to Bagram and then to Guantánamo where he was held for eight years without charge or trial before being forcibly repatriated to Algeria.

3. Reprieve, a legal action charity, delivers justice and save lives, 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 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, 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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