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Alleged Algerian torturer barely escapes Swiss justice

18.10.2009 ( Last modified: 17.07.2017 )

Geneva, 18 October 2009 – Mr. Bouguerra SOLTANI, leader of the Islamist party Movement for the Society of Peace, who was in Switzerland last Friday and against whom a criminal complaint alleging acts of torture was submitted to Fribourg’s investigating judge, left Switzerland before he could be arrested.

On 12 October 2009 TRIAL (Track Impunity Always – Swiss Association against Impunity) submitted a criminal complaint to the investigating judge in the Canton of Fribourg, charging Mr. Bouguerra SOLTANI with acts of torture. The following day, the victim, Mr. Nouar ABDELMALEK, joined the proceeding as a civil party.

In July 2009, TRIAL had already filed an individual communication against Algeria before the UN Committee against torture on behalf of M. ADBELMALEK. The communication referred to the multiple tortures he suffered in his country between 2001 and 2005. Mr. SOLTANI is among the individuals denounced by the victim for having organized a torture session. Mr. ABDELMALEK, owing to the abuses he endured, was later granted refugee status in France, where he is now living.

In the framework of his functions at the Ministry of Defense, M ABDELMALEK published a report in 1998 in which he expressly mentioned Mr. SOLTANI’s implication in the recruitment of a young Algerian Islamist sent to Afghanistan. After the report was released, Mr. ABDELMALEK was discharged from his official functions but continued criticizing Mr. SOLTANI in the press.

In June 2005, Mr. ABDELMALEK was arrested on the basis of fallacious charges. Policemen brought him to the brigade of Beni Messous where he suffered torture for several days. In the morning of the 1 July 2005, officials transferred Mr. ABDELMALEK to the Châteauneuf facility, notorious for being Algeria’s main center for torture and arbitrary detention.

Electric shocks and other abuses

On the same day, Mr. SOLTANI, then Minister of State, went to the room where Mr. ABDELMALEK was detained in order to personally direct a torture session which lasted for about 2 hours. During that session, the victim was subjected to waterboarding, to several electric shocks on the stomach, feet and hands, his ankles were twisted as if to break them and a screwdriver was even introduced into a recent wound on his right foot.

With the purpose to make Mr. ABDELMALEK sign fake declarations and blank documents, Mr. SOLTANI openly directed the session, encouraging and inciting the agents to carry out these inhuman acts. Mr. ABDELMALEK was also threatened of not leaving the facility alive.

Switzerland implements its international obligations

Mr. ABDELMALEK was heard on Friday 16 October 2006 by the investigating judge, in the presence of a psychiatric expert who established the credibility of his statement. According to Damien CHERVAZ, the victim’s lawyer, “it was planned at the end of the audience that Mr. SOLTANI was to be arrested and that a direct confrontation between the two subjects would consequently be organized”.

But the confrontation never took place. Mr. SOLTANI was seen and recognized in Geneva on Friday 16 October 2009 by a number of people and was interviewed by the press agency Alquds Press. He presumably escaped Switzerland shortly thereafter and probably never reached Fribourg, where he was awaited.

TRIAL regrets Mr. SOLTANI’s escape but is satisfied that Swiss authorities  seriously tried to implement their international obligations by initiating a proceeding against an individual suspected of acts of torture.

According to the Convention against torture, entered into force in our country in 1987, Switzerland is bound to detain any person presumed of having perpetrated acts of torture, even if committed abroad (principle of universal jurisdiction) and must submit the case to its judicial authorities if it does not extradite the accused to be judged abroad. For Philip GRANT, President of TRIAL, Mr. SOLTANI’s capture “would have been a strong sign that impunity is no longer an option for torturers and that justice is on the side of the victims”.

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