Ahmed Zaoui languishes in jail, with no trial date on the horizon

Former refugee Ahmed Zaoui describes how he was locked up upon arrival in New Zealand

Ahmed Zaoui photographed in 2016.
Photo: RNZ

New Zealand refugee Ahmed Zaoui has not been given a trial date in Algeria on subversion charges.

The political activist was arrested at gunpoint the day after he wrote a public statement in October and has remained in prison since.

“He endured and did the best he could,” according to his New Zealand lawyer, Deborah Manning, although it was a very hard time for him and his family.

The future was unclear, including when he might be tried, he said.

“‘Unfortunately there are no dates in Algeria, the rule of law is lacking and that is why there are no dates. It is in a very unknowable scenario. It is a political accusation based on a statement that he had issued with others and that he had issued several statements. Simply It appears that the political winds at the time meant that he was unfortunately subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.

“He had issued a political statement, essentially calling for peace and dialogue in Algeria about the problems facing the country related to political and economic instability. And then the next day, there was a raid on his house along with other people who had signed the communicated, and they were arrested and detained.”

He has dual New Zealand and Algerian citizenship, and had been in the North African state with his family in recent times after the political situation there improved.

“There is a local (New Zealand) embassy in Egypt, but they are very limited in terms of what they can do, because Mr Zaoui is classed as an Algerian citizen. So, in terms of diplomatic arrangements, there is little they can do.” , unfortunately.”

Zaoui, 62, a diabetic, was recognized as a refugee by New Zealand 20 years ago, and the court found he was a political activist but not a member of a terrorist group, as the security services allege.

Refugee court hearing points out ‘falsehoods’

The former imam and university professor ran as a FIS candidate in the 1991 elections, but after a military coup the political group was banned. In January 1992, he gave a speech at a rally in which he described the military regime as illegitimate and that same day he was arrested.

Zaoui was subsequently sentenced to death in absentia for carrying weapons, attacking national security and forming an armed group, and fled to Europe in 1993.

After receiving further death sentences and attempting to gain asylum in Belgium and Switzerland, he and his family flew to Malaysia in 2000. Fearing that the Algerian authorities were planning a move against him, he left for New Zealand in 2002.

Zaoui’s lawyers found that France, Britain, Belgium and Switzerland had provided documentation that New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service (SIS) relied on and accepted as truth in a post-9/11 atmosphere, but which was evidence contaminated by Algerian security forces.

The refugee tribunal that heard his appeal expressed surprise at how “limited and questionable” the SIS evidence was, and dismay at the leaks to the media in New Zealand. In his lengthy trial, he noted the official and media willingness to tell and amplify “falsehoods” based on “their preconceptions and fears about Islamic ‘terrorists’.”

“The same falsehoods also constitute additional examples of an important issue that has emerged from our consideration of the evidence, namely, the process by which highly damaging misinformation about (Zaoui) rapidly acquires the status of received ‘facts’ – a process reinforced by the dissemination and recycling of these ‘facts’ by the media/Internet, as well as among intelligence services and immigration and other officials in a variety of countries.”