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Exiled activist sought by Algeria says has UN refugee status

By AFP - Nov 19,2022 - Last updated at Nov 19,2022

TUNIS — A prominent Algerian activist seeking asylum in Tunisia said he had been granted refugee status by the United Nations, following calls to prevent his extradition on security-related charges.

Zaki Hannache, a leading figure in the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement that toppled veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019, has been using social media to speak out for detained activists.

Hannache fled to neighbouring Tunisia earlier this year after being arrested and charged in February. He was held several weeks for allegedly defending terrorist acts and spreading false news.

In a Facebook post on Friday, he said he was “forced” to turn to the UN refugee agency UNHCR for protection “after I was informed that Tunisian authorities were searching for me (to) hand me over to Algeria”.

“Today the UNHCR decided to grant me refugee status,” Hanache said.

“Moreover the UNHCR has confirmed that I am not a terrorist or a criminal, as claimed by the Algerian authorities.”

UNHCR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency sometimes intervenes in the cases of individual asylum seekers to decide whether they qualify for refugee status.

In a statement issued Wednesday, a group of 55 Algerian, Tunisian and international rights groups voiced their “deep concern” that Hannache could be sent back.

He faces up to 35 years in prison on charges the organisations said stem solely from “exercising his freedom of expression through his work publishing information and documenting the arrests of prisoners of conscience”.

“Tunisian authorities must under no circumstances repeat the dangerous precedent” of Slimane Bouhafs, the statement said.

Bouhafs had refugee status in Tunisia but was “disappeared” from his home in August 2021 under “mysterious circumstances” and was returned to face trial in Algeria, according to Amnesty International.

In a September message to the Algerian government made public earlier this week, Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, expressed “serious concerns” over Hannache’s case.

“The accusations against him... appear to be directly linked to his work as a human rights defender,” Lawlor said.

Algerian authorities have prosecuted hundreds of people since 2019 in relation to the Hirak movement or rights campaigning, according to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees.

 

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