An Algerian judge this week arbitrarily denied bail to a former Guantánamo detainee, despite his meeting all of the bail requirements set out in the country’s penal procedures code. Abdul Aziz Naji was cleared by the US after being detained at Guantánamo for eight years, and then forcibly returned to Algeria – where, as he had feared, he was convicted and imprisoned on unsubstantiated charges.
Although Mr Naji’s recent bail request was made on the basis that he met all of the requirements set out in the Algerian Penal Procedures Code, the judge rejected it on the grounds that he had not proven that he is unable to withstand imprisonment because of his medical condition. This refusal has no legal basis, as the Algerian law governing bail makes no mention of release on medical grounds.
In January this year, Mr Naji was sentenced to three years on unsubstantiated allegations of membership in an extremist group overseas. The charges were derived from the now-discredited accusations that the US administration made against him in 2002.
During his trial, 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 requested that he be released on bail pending retrial. She will resubmit the bail request arguing that the rejection had no basis in the law.
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. His health has deteriorated further by a hunger strike he undertook. He explained his decision to go on hunger strike, through his Algerian lawyer, as “the only way that he had to protest his unjust treatment—first by the US authorities in Guantánamo and now in his own country.” He has been denied medical assistance and was imprisoned before a scheduled surgery had taken place. 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:
“The worst nightmares of Aziz and his family have been realised—Algeria is persisting in its unlawful treatment of him. It is appalling that he should be perpetually punished for the same discredited allegation which the US cleared him of years ago.”
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. “The jihad does not have to be a jihad where you fight. Jihad can be carrying food or helping others. It does not have to be fighting,” Mr. Naji explained to the military review at Guantanamo. 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 in 2010.
Update from Reprieve
Send A Message to the Algerian Minister of Justice Demanding Justice for Abdul Aziz Naji:
Monsieur le Ministre,
A la suite d’informations reçues de l’organisation britanique de défense des droits de l’Homme CagePrisoners, je vous exprime ma vive préoccupation concernant l’affaire d’Abdel Aziz Naji arrété le 16 janvier 2012 et condamné le jour même à trois ans de prison, accusé d’appartenir à un groupe terroriste opérant à l’étranger. Il apparaît que cette condamnation n’a pas été prononcée dans des conditions compatibles avec celle d’un procès équitable. En outre, après le dépôt d’un appel, il a été refusé sous caution malgré la souffrance de la santé se détériore.
Alors que l’Egypte a mis fin à la détention injuste d’Adel Al-Gazzar, alors que des anciens détenus tunisiens de Guantanmo ont pu regagner leur pays d’origine en toute sécurité et alors que les nouvelles autorités tunisiennes se sont engagées à tout faire pour obtenir la libération de ses cinq citoyens toujours détenus sur l’île cubaine, l’Algérie incarcère un homme qui a déjà passé 8 ans à Guantanamo sans procès, et ce sur la base de vagues accusations et, semble t-il, de manière expéditive.
Je vous demande donc la libération immédiate d’Abdel Aziz Naji et la révocation immédiate de sa condamnation sans fondement.
Je vous prie de recevoir l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.
Ministry of Justice (Algeria)
Address: Ministère de la Justice 8, Place Bir Hakem, El-Biar, Alger