A prominent figure in the Algerian pro-democracy movement Hirak was found among a group of migrants on a boat heading to Spain. Chems Eddine Laalami and others on the boat were, however, intercepted by the Algerian coast guard, a rights group said Tuesday.
Various media outlets in Algeria have reported that the country’s coast guard intercepted political activist Chems Eddine Laalami alongside 13 other people. They have all been detained for the time being.
It is unclear at this point whether others on the same boat also were political activists. The Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) only confirmed that the incident took place and that Laalami was taken into custody.
The interception of the boat reportedly took place off Oran, on the country's northwest coast on Sunday night, about 450 kilometers west of the capital, Algiers.
No allowance for political dissent
Laalami’s attempt to flee the North African country may provide an insight about the overall human rights situation in Algeria, especially for outspoken members of the opposition.
Laalami had become a figurehead in Algeria in February 2019 when he protested publicly against then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's run for a fifth term in office. Bouteflika had to resign two months later after a peaceful uprising in the country, but the overall power structures in Algeria have largely remained unchanged.
But Laalami, who is also known as Brahim, has since been arrested on several occasions and has been convicted in a number of trials. On February 15, 2021, he was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine equal to almost $1,500.
He was later granted a presidential pardon along with other prisoners from the Hirak movement in a bid to build a sense of national cohesion. The French national broadcaster TV5 showed footage of the release of Laalami and 30 others at the time.
However, in its pursuit to overcome difference and division, the Algerian government has banned all demonstrations organized by Hirak and has stepped up legal proceedings against various opponents of the government, including political activists, journalists and academics. Many fear that the overall human rights situation in the country might be considerably deteriorating.
Some 300 people are currently reported to be behind bars on charges related to the Hirak protest movement, according to the CNLD prisoners' right groups.
'Illegal migration' law in Algeria
Laalami now faces another trial and conviction for his attempt to leave the country using irregular migration means. Algeria has a law against so-called illegal migration, which was passed in 2009; offenders can be jailed for up to six months.
The law, however, has failed to serve as a deterrent for those who still seek to leave the country for Europe, as in the 12 years since its passing, irregular migration patterns have only increased.
Those who are afraid break the national law sometimes travel to neighboring Morocco or Tunisia to depart to Europe -- or even further on to Libya.