With around forty colleagues, you defended journalist Khaled Drareni, sentenced on appeal to two years in prison. How do you react to this verdict?
Me Aouicha Bekhti Like many Algerians, I find it difficult to realize. We expected a conviction, but we told ourselves that he could get a six-month fixed sentence and a six-month suspended sentence, which would have resulted in his release in the coming days, since he has been imprisoned since March 28, 2020. We even thought that the release was possible. Above all, the file is miserably empty. There is nothing to support the two main accusations: “undermining national unity” and “incitement to unarmed assembly”. They only embroidered, incriminating his interventions on foreign channels. Those who in the 1990s took up arms against institutions, against Algeria, who murdered thousands of Algerians, burned schools, have never had to answer such accusations. But all the young people today prosecuted for their peaceful participation in Hirak are accused of “undermining national unity”. The incitement to gatherings, I do not see where it is: millions of Algerians marched in the streets.
Algerians speak of “telephone justice”. What do they mean by that?
Me Aouicha Bekhti We see it: the hearings boil down to appearances of debates on fabricated cases. We are convinced that the decisions are the result of injunctions from political power. This is the justice of the telephone: a justice of injunction, settling of scores and calculations. The one who condemns dangerous criminals to the same sentence as Khaled Drareni who is perfectly innocent.
How has the government taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to tighten its repressive grip?
Me Aouicha Bekhti During gatherings, you can find yourself handcuffed, embarked for non-compliance with sanitary measures. While the FLN and the RND, the two rottenest parties in Algeria, those who led this country into the abyss, held their congresses a few weeks ago. To them, sanitary measures do not apply. As there are no more demonstrations, young people are arrested for simple publications on social networks. They send people to prison with unconscious levity. And during this time, the capacity sings us the new Algeria, rewrites the Constitution with the rogue deputies who paid their seats 7 million dinars.
Is the regime still stiffening, with the approach of the referendum of November 1 to ratify these constitutional amendments?
Me Aouicha Bekhti We can feel this hardening. Honestly, the climate is very muggy. We feel oppressed. We have trouble breathing.
With these verdicts falling one after the other like axles, has the government managed to stifle the popular movement?
Me Aouicha Bekhti Power is certainly seeking to strangle the hirak for good. He wants to whistle the end of recess: he has imposed his men, he wants to move his agenda forward. But Algerians are not resigned. The country remains a pressure cooker. Nothing will be the same again. For now, people are keeping a low profile, because of the pandemic, but it will not last. Power goes too far in provocation. He acts as if the people do not exist.