Karim Tabbou’s trial was yet again postponed to 1 June 2020, as part of regulations from the authorities to control the spread of COVID-19. Karim Tabbou has been imprisoned for more than 8 months now and had suffered dire health conditions in prison prior to slow recovery as reported by his lawyers who continue to pay him visits.
Karim Tabbou was first arrested on 11 September 2019 and charged with “undermining the morale of the army” punishable by up to 10 years in prison under article 75 of the penal code. More than two weeks after this arrest, he was released on 25 September 2019, supposedly pending trial. To his surprise, he was immediately arrested again the next day for a video that he had published in April 2019. This time, he was charged with “inciting to commit acts of violence with the intention of harming national defense” and “harming national unity" by preparing and publishing videos on social media. For these speech-related set of charges, Tabbou was first tried before the Sidi M’hamed first instance court on 11 March 2020. The court sentenced him to a fine and 12 months in prison, 6 months of which were suspended. He was due for release on 25 March 2020 having already served the six months in prison. However, a day before the due release date, on March 24, the Ruisseau Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in a trial that violated fair trial principles including denying the defence reasonable time to prepare their argument and access to case file before the trial and returned him to prison where he remains until now.
Karim was only notified of the trial the same morning, when he was then transferred from Koléa prison to the appeals court without his family or lawyers’ knowledge. His lawyers were only notified of the trial by a colleague who happened to be at the courtroom at the time. Karim collapsed at the court room due to a spike in blood pressure and his lawyers rushed to court to find him at the courtroom’s infirmary. They boycotted the trial after the judges refused to postpone it and pronounced a verdict in absentia in a flagrant violation of his due process rights.
I therefore ask you to immediately and unconditionally release Karim Tabbou and quash his conviction as he is a prisoner of conscience. Pending his release, I call on you to ensure he has access to adequate health care and protection from the risks of infection with COVID19. I finally call on you to investigate the conditions of his arrest and detention and release all other prisoners of conscience in Algeria.