Two young activists, one is Algerian and the other is Tunisian. They look like two drops of water: thin, close fitting sweaters, Zara can be read on one of them, it is not a war cry, just a brand name, short and wise hair, clean shaven.
The first, Mohand Kadi, is a student and activist with the Raj Association (The Assembly of Youth Action). He is only twenty-three years old. The other, Moez Bennecir, is an editing assistant and is twenty-five years old.
This is the age during which the judicial apparatus decided to let them languish in the terrible Serkaji prison in Algiers since 16 April, the date of their arrest. Side-by-side they arrived without a sound, behind an armed police officer built like a tank, with a friendly face, however. They sat as if they were not there. “After twenty days in prison, my son is a little bit stressed out,” confided the father who himself was not entirely undisturbed: he was nearly banned from attending the trial of his own son as only a few other people came to support the defendants. The hearing was not yet open, when the police summoned him to leave the room, discreetly and without noise, and in defiance of the law since in Algeria, hearings are open to the public.
Being informed of the incident, Mr. Bouchachi, one of fifteen lawyers present and former president of the League of Human Rights gets angry: "Here, these are not barracks, this is a court."
A few moments later, the court changed their mind and allowed them to take their place, without anybody knowing who decided to exclude them, but who nonetheless had a change of opinion under the shadow of justice.
Sunday morning, 11 April, in front of the court began what Mr. Bouchachi called in his testimony a “historic trial.” The hearing began. Mohaned Kadi is accused of an “unarmed gathering which may disturb the peace.” This curious accusation dates from 1975, during the time of a single party, and refers to Articles 97 and 98 of the penal code. Moez faces similar charges aggravated with an accusation of "illegal stay." This second charge will not even be evoked during the hearing. As a Tunisian, Moez was legally staying in Algeria where he worked as an editorial assistant for the Sefraber publishing house at Bejaïa—a publishing house founded by Yves Julien Pescheur, a Frenchman. It was, however, the Illegal Immigration Services (les Services de l`Immigration clandestine, SIC) who arrested him on 16 April. The same day, the Barakat movement had organized a protest "against the fourth term" of President Bouteflika which was violently dispersed.
“I left to buy a pack of cigarettes when a police officer, who came up from behind, arrested me,” he explained to the young judge who appeared to be slightly distracted. Sitting at a café table at the Place Audin, close to the demonstration, his friend Mohand was waiting for him. Even though Mohand was Algerian, the same officer from the immigration services arrested him. Calling it an illegal procedure, Mr. Sidhoum, another defense counsel, said: “Shame on the Algerian justice system which presents such a case. Since when do the immigration services handle crowds?”
It might not be legal but it was done, and since then, as Mr. Bouchachi pointed out, one could not find a single judge to enforce the code of criminal procedure or the penal code. “Something grave is happening in this country. The feeling that emerges from this whole process is that neither the prosecutor nor the judges are there to enforce the law. When I read this file, it comes as a fear: no Algerian is safe, no Algerian is free.”
After being illegally arrested under flagrant violation of the law, Moez and Mohand were in custody two times forty-eight hours—the legal term. Then they were deferred to the public prosecutor who will, in his turn, refer them to the state attorney in charge of setting the terms of their sentence after being charged as dangerous criminals. The case should have been tried during the same week. This is for the procedure, but the substance remains unaddressed: in flagrant violation of what? This is where the case becomes idle.
On 16 April, the Barakat movement called for a protest at Place Audin, in downtown Algiers. This movement was born to oppose “the fourth mandate of President Bouteflika,” during the electoral campaigns. Its leaders do not hide; they are known and heavily mediatized. Their images are widely disseminated around the world, and even though they have been harassed, mistreated, and prohibited from protesting, neither one of them has been arrested or imprisoned. Yet, only Moez and Ramdan have been arrested while they have not ceased to plead not guilty.
According to their version of the facts, they were not in Algiers to protest but, rather, because Moez, who lives in Bejaïa, had an appointment at TSL in Ben Aknoun, a place well known among Algerians where requests for French visas are made. Up until this day, Moez had never stepped foot in Algiers, which is why he asked his friend Mohand to accompany him to this appointment. The formalities of the appointment were completed around 3 pm, while the demonstration came to an abrupt end. They went from Ben Aknoun to the downtown area. There, they sat tucked away in a café terrace where they were arrested as dangerous criminals. “There is no crime without a legal text,” Mr. Bouchachi again reminds us.
According to article 98 of the penal code, and the fifteen defense lawyers who take turns repeating it, in order to identify legally an “unarmed gathering which may disturb the peace,” the representative of the public order must identify himself while announcing his “…presence by an auditory or light signal in order to effectively warn the individuals who constitute the gathering.” Articles 1 and 2 instruct “to summon people to disperse with the aid of a microphone or by emitting a sound or light signal in order to effectively warn those individuals who constitute the gathering.” The law even recommends that two warnings be given before the infraction is recorded. One should also add that this law does not envisage “the gathering of two individuals on the terrace of a café."
Given the provisions of the law, it seems that the conspiracy lies elsewhere and that soon the true accusation will soon come to light, especially since the specificity of this trial lies in the presence of a Tunisian man who works for a Frenchman in Kabylia, in a publishing house that recently published a book entitled “step down, step down, we told you to step down” (dégage, dégage, on vous a dit dégage). Moreover, this Frenchman who introduces himself as a “dreamer-adventurer” was formerly in the military and fought in the Algerian War in 1960. He has subsequently been seized by a love for Algeria in general, and for Kabylia in particular, and seeks to publish exclusively Kabyle writers. It seems that the “foreign hand” or “conspiracy” will be eventually embodied, unveiled to the public opinion, proved, and substantiated. And we wait, holding our breath for the accusation. It is clear that we will be disappointed, that is the least one can say.
The Frenchman will not even be cited, even once. The book will not be evoked, and the word conspiracy will never be pronounced. Nothing. Without great conviction the public prosecutor poses some strange questions to the defendants in front of the judge: “Do you know a certain Djaffar Khelloufi?” he asks, a bit worried. “Yes,” the Algerian responds, “he is a friend and a neighbor.” “No,” the Tunisian answers. Djaffar Khelloufi is quietly seated in the audience as a member of the movement Barakat. Following comes a list of names that the defendants called from their cell phones. It seems that the prosecutor wants to show that they absolutely know the organizers of the protest. “And so,” asks the lawyer, “Where is the crime? Are they dangerous criminals sought out by the police? They are just simple citizens who publicly called to protest.”
“Why did you come to Algiers from the consulate at Ben Aknoun when it would have been easier to go directly to the bus station at Caroubier?” One seems to be dreaming - where is the conspiracy? “The press had warned that this protest was illegal. The phone calls prove that the accused were in contact with the organizers of the protest. And so I demand a prison sentence.” And madam the judge declares, without raising an eyebrow, “to be decided on 18 May.”
Another week at Serkaji for two young men who are guilty of having called a few friends who are activists. They are guilty of having circulated freely in downtown Algiers, and for daring to drink a coffee a few steps from a protest that was illegal according to a law that dates from 1974. But this is the Algeria of 2014. Fifteen lawyers made their case drawing on an empty dossier. There was a female judge and a public prosecutor who had the absent look of a robot of the court. The defendants had only asked for the right to move freely around the city and to pick up a French visa. And underlying this trial is the ephemeral organization, Barakat, whose leaders were not even present in the courthouse.
In a more historical vein, this political trial is the current image of Algeria, empty of all substance.
[Following the initial publication of the above aritcle in French, on 19 May, Mohand Kadi and Moez Bennecir received each received a six-month conditional sentence. This article was originally published in French on Mondafrique.]
 And former deputy of the FFS who resigned spectacularly during the last presidential race.