US must stand up to Algeria over persecution of ex-Guantánamo prisoner

May 11, 2012

The Algerian government’s arbitrary imprisonment of an innocent man continued today as its parliamentary elections were met by notably low voter turnout. 

Abdul Aziz Naji’s ordeal highlights the hollowness of political reform in Algeria, which has reportedly contributed to the low election turnout.  After being detained at Guantánamo Bay for eight years, Mr Naji was cleared by the US military and forcibly returned to Algeria – where, as is typical of the current Algerian regime, he was convicted and imprisoned on trumped-up charges.

Mr Naji now faces three years in prison on charges entirely derived from erroneous – and now-retracted – terrorism accusations that the US administration made against him in 2002. The Algerian prosecutor presented no evidence of Mr Naji’s guilt, and a judge last week arbitrarily denied him bail.

The US has apparently taken no steps to remedy this injustice. Mr Naji, an amputee who is now suffering badly from complications as a result of his injury, is being held in the notorious Berouaguia Prison in Medea. He has not had access to adequate medical treatment while in prison and his family is deeply concerned about his rapidly deteriorating health.

Reprieve’s Life After Guantánamo Caseworker, Katie Taylor said: “Aziz’s sham trial underlines the shallowness of Algeria’s reform. Aziz has said that his current imprisonment makes him feel like he is reliving his years in Guantánamo. It is incumbent upon the Algerian government to stop perpetuating this injustice and overturn Aziz’s baseless conviction. The US must finally take responsibility for Mr Naji and demand his immediate release.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. For further information please contact Katherine O’Shea in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0) 20 7427 1082 / (0) 7931592674 or go to http://www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/abdulaziznaji/

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, 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 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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