Showdown between state and judges in Algeria highlights continuing tensions over Hirak

President of judges’ union faces legal troubles for support to protests, according to activists.
Friday 22/05/2020
Judges and prosecutors take part in a protest to demand the independence of the judiciary in Algiers, Algeria, last October. (REUTERS)
Judges and prosecutors take part in a protest to demand the independence of the judiciary in Algiers, Algeria, last October. (REUTERS)

ALGIERS–The president of Algeria’s National Union of Judges recently received a summons to appear before a court of justice, highlighting a growing rift between the country’s judges and Justice Ministry.

The development further fuelled tensions between the Ministry of Justice and the judges’ union, which has called for judicial reform and expressed support for Algeria’s Hirak protest movement.

The judges’ union issued a statement questioning the court order to its president, Saadeddine Marzouk, and took aim at Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati, who it accused of acting “tyrannically.”

The statement said that the National Union of Judges stands against the “exceptional summoning” of Marzouk during the ongoing health crisis, stressing that the union’s president is not a criminal or a corruption suspect, but simply a vocal defender of judicial rights and independence.

Marzouk’s call to appear before the court by the end of June came after he presented a positive reading of the first draft of constitutional reform measures that called for “the collective involvement of the various forces in the constitutional path” and the need to meet several demands of the popular protest movement.

While the nature of the charges against Marzouk, who was temporarily suspended from his work, remain unknown, many activists, bloggers and human rights advocates believe it likely centres on his public support for the Hirak.

Protesters and activists voicing support for the movement have continued to face backlash from Algerian authorities, even as President Abdelmajid Tebboune has affirmed their right to free expression.

In 2019, Algerian judges and prosecutors began an open-ended strike to demand the judiciary’s independence from the Ministry of Justice, an unprecedented step in the country’s history. Algeria’s judicial system has come under increased fire since longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in April 2019 due to months of protests calling for comprehensive reform.

Algeria’s National Union of Judges accused Zeghmati of “tyranny, selfishness and narcissm” and disparaged him as previously being a “judge known for dependence and following orders.”