Jailed Islamists demand their day in court

Algeria looks ahead: President warned not to disregard fundamentalists after poll triumph

ROBERT FISK

Algiers

A week ago - just as Algerians were going to the polls to elect Liamine Zeroual as president - Mostepha Bouchachi, lawyer at the Algerian supreme court and graduate of Southampton University, walked through the forbidding iron gates of the old French-built prison of Serkadji above Algiers to talk to a client.

In a rectangular room reserved for prison visits, Mr Bouchachi sat down opposite Abdel Kader Hashani, the third most important figure in the banned Islamic Salvation Front, the FIS. Hashani, who has been charged with calling for desertion among the armed forces, repeated what he has been telling his lawyer for three years: "Let the government put me on trial."

Mr Hashani is in solitary confinement but the authorities have allowed him a Koran and a transistor radio on which he listens - according to Mr Bouchachi - to the Arabic services of the BBC and the Voice of America. Bespectacled and invariably dressed in a grey khamis gown, he has written to President Zeroual, to the Algerian justice ministry, to his lawyer, always demanding to be taken to court.

"This kind of thing shouldn't happen in this century," Mr Bouchachi says. "Mr Hashani was a very peaceful man. He led the FIS to win the parliamentary elections in 1991. These elections were annulled by the authorities. A month later, Mr Hashani wrote a communique in which he said: 'I ask the armed forces to respect the constitution.' That is all he said. But two days later he was arrested - and has been in prison ever since."

The military-backed government took a somewhat different view of the Hashani statement. In the context of the cancelled elections, they regarded Hashani's call as an appeal to the army to support the FIS election victory and to stage a mutiny. But no trial followed. "He writes to us all the time, saying he wants to be judged," Mr Bouchachi says. "The trouble is that the people in charge of this country don't want an independent justice system. The law was amended two years ago, giving more power to the minister of justice to suspend judges involved in certain cases."

Mr Bouchachi, as it turns out, is also the lawyer for Ali Belhadj, the second - but most popular - FIS leader, arrested before the FIS victory in the 1991 elections and subsequently sentenced to 12 years for sedition. "I am his lawyer but I haven't seen him for two years," Mr Bouchachi says.

Moved briefly to house arrest, Ali Belhadj and Abassi Madani, the FIS leader, held two series of negotiations with the government - a year ago and then again this spring; President Zeroual insisted that the FIS publicly renounce violence. The FIS demanded the unconditional liberation of prisoners, freedom of movement and association, and permission to operate as a political party. "When the government decided to suspend the negotiations, Mr Belhadj was moved to a prison in the south," Mr Bouchachi says. "But I have no permission to see him and I don't know where he is."

The issue that now faces President Zeroual is whether to free the FIS leaders after his election victory - on the grounds that they are no longer relevant - or whether to reopen negotiations because he is strong enough to compromise.

Sheikh Mahfoud Nahnah, the leader of the moderate Islamist Hamas party, who won 25 per cent of the votes last Thursday, had called for the closing of prison camps, the liberation of political prisoners and an amnesty for certain political crimes. The secular Kabyle leader, Said Sadi, believes that FIS supporters - unable to vote for their own representatives because their party is banned - gave their support to Mr Nahnah. "Fundamentalism is decreasing," Mr Sadi said after hearing that he had won 10 per cent of the vote. "The FIS voted for Hamas and 25 per cent was the best they could get - and that's not very much for a country as big as Algeria. The reason the FIS didn't want these elections was because they knew they had reached their absolute maximum [in popularity] in 1991; they knew they couldn't do it again."

Algerian newspapers are this week filled with reports that Islamists are handing themselves over to the authorities, despairing of their future after 75 per cent of the electorate, according to official figures, disobeyed their call to boycott the presidential elections.

Mr Bouchachi disputes this thesis. "Sooner or later," he says, "the government will have to deal with the FIS. They cannot make the FIS disappear. It will not go away. For Zeroual to govern, he has to reach reconciliation with the FIS, the National Liberation Front and the Front of Socialist Forces. If he tries to create his own party and hold legislative elections under high security, this will lead his country to disaster."

Suggested Topics
News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits