Zaki Hannache, an Algerian activist who applied for asylum in Tunisia, has said that he has obtained refugee status in Tunisia. The UN refugee agency UNHCR has not commented so far.
Algerian activist Zaki Hannache, an asylum seeker in Tunisia, says he has obtained refugee status from the UN. His statement comes after calls aimed at preventing his extradition to Algeria over charges linked to his security, the newspaper L'Orient Today reported last week (November 19).
Hannache is a leading member of pro-democracy protest movement Hirak, which in 2019 toppled Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He has used social media to speak up for detained activists.
After being arrested and indicted at the beginning of this year, Hannache fled to neighboring Tunisia. He was detained by Algerian authorities for several week over his alleged defense of terrorist acts and for allegedly spreading fake news.
Up to 35 years in jail
In a post on Facebook last Friday (November 18), Hannache stated that he was "forced" to apply to UN refugee agency UNHCR for protection "after being informed that Tunisian authorities were looking for me" to "hand me back to Algeria".
"Today, UNHCR decided to grant me the status of refugee", he continued. "Moreover, UNHCR confirmed that I am not a terrorist nor a criminal, as claimed by Algerian authorities," he added. UNHCR did not comment on the case.
In a statement released last Wednesday (November 16), a group of 55 Algerian, Tunisian and international human rights organizations had expressed "deep concern" over the potential repatriation of Hannache.
The activist risks up to 35 years in prison over the charges which, according to the organizations, are exclusively linked to his "freedom of expression through his work publishing information and reports on the arrest" of political prisoners.
UN expresses 'serious concern'
"Tunisian authorities must not in any case repeat the dangerous precedent" of Slimane Bouhafs, the organizations' statement also said. Bouhafs had been granted refugee status in Tunisia but "disappeared" from his home in August 2021 under "mysterious circumstances". According to Amnesty International, he was taken back to Algeria to stand trial.
In a message in September addressed to the Algerian government and released at the beginning of last week, moreover, Mary Lawlor, the special UN rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, expressed "serious concern" over Hannache's case.
"The charges against him appear to be directly linked to his work as a human rights defender", she commented. Algerian authorities have prosecuted hundreds of people in 2019 in relation to the Hirak movement and to human rights campaigns, according to the National committee for the release of detainees (CNLD).