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Algeria jails Canadian researcher for ‘publishing secret information’

Raouf Farrah works for an international anti-crime non-governmental organization
The lawyer for a a Canadian researcher detained in Algeria since February says his client has been sentenced to two years in prison. Raouf Farrah, who was born in Algeria but came to Canada as a teenager, is scheduled to stand trial Aug. 8 in the city of Constantine. Farrah appears in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Farrah family *MANDATORY CREDIT*

A Canadian researcher detained in Algeria since February was sentenced on Tuesday to two years in prison, according to his lawyer.

Kouceila Zerguine said Raouf Farrah has also been fined the 200,000 Algerian Dinar, around CAD$2,000.

“An appeal has been filed against this decision,” Zerguine wrote in a text message Tuesday.

Zerguine said Farrah’s father, Sebti Farrah, a Montreal-area resident, was given a one-year suspended sentence by the same court in the eastern Algerian city of Constantine.

Farrah, who studies migration and criminal economies for an international anti-crime non-governmental organization, had been charged with publishing secret information and being paid to commit offences against public order.

Farrah’s employer, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, condemned the sentence, saying the charges were proven to be without merit during a one-day trial earlier this month.

“Although we were being realistic about the potential trial outcomes, today’s result is particularly difficult to accept, given that the prosecution failed to present any legal case against Raouf and Sebti,” Mark Shaw, the organization’s director, said in a news release.

“Any free and fair trial would have found Raouf and Sebti, as well as the other co-defendants, innocent. Instead, we are facing a scenario where Raouf faces more jail time on top of the almost six months in custody that he has already unjustly served, while his 67-year-old father, a respectable law-abiding citizen, now has a criminal record.”

Eric Goldstein, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said the fundamental problem with the charges faced by the Farrahs and Algerian journalist Mustapha Bendjama, who was tried and sentenced alongside them, is the nature of the charges themselves.

“You can tell by looking at the nature of the charges that these are manifestly political charges that can be used to fit any occasion when the government wants to punish anyone,” Goldstein said in an interview. “We are looking at a researcher for an internationally-known NGO and a journalist, both of whom are now facing two years in prison for doing their jobs.”

Goldstein said the court found that Bendjama had received money from foreign institutions with the intent of committing acts that can disturb public order, because he was paid to do research for Farrah, adding that Algerian authorities can arbitrarily declare information to be classified.

“With charges that are so vague, it’s really hard to talk about trials that are fair, or a justice system that is fair, because anything you do can be turned against you,” he said.

Bendjama testified that during his interrogation, authorities used a screwdriver to pry his fingers open and place one on his phone’s fingerprint scanner to open it, Goldstein said, adding that police subjected him to all-night interrogations and threats of violence.

Farrah’s conviction comes amid a larger crackdown against Algeria’s pro-democracy movement and follows the flight of a prominent pro-democracy activist, Amira Bouraoui, from the country, Goldstein said.

Both Farrah and Bendjama have denied helping Bouraoui, who was banned from leaving Algeria, to flee.

Born in Algeria, Farrah moved to Canada when he was 18. He lived in Montreal, where he studied at the Université de Montréal, before getting a master’s degree at the University of Ottawa.

The Algerian Embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday.

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