Suleiman Bouhafs

Name: Suleiman Bouhafs

Country/Area of Origin: Algeria

Background: Bouhafs is a Christian from the Amazigh indigenous people group native to North Africa, notably Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and the Canary Islands.

Reason for Arrest:

Bouhafs was originally arrested in September 2016 in Algeria for some Facebook posts he had made criticizing Islam; authorities charged him with “harming the image of the Prophet” and “offending Islam” under Article 144 bis 2 of the Algerian Penal Code. Without access to legal counsel or a fair trial, Bouhafs was sentenced to three years in prison, during which he faced persecution and physical assault on account of his minority faith. Having received a presidential pardon in 2018, Bouhafs was released from prison after two years and fled to adjacent Tunisia.

While he was in Tunisia, Algerian authorities accused Bouhafs of terrorism for his alleged membership in an Amazigh self-determination organization; historically, Algeria has unscrupulously classified human rights activists and political dissidents as terrorism for their lawful activities. In September 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner granted Bouhafs political refugee status.

On 25 August 2021, neighbors witnessed a black car pulled in front of Bouhafs’ home in Tunisia, at which point three plainclothes individuals entered his apartment and forced him outside and into a vehicle. Bouhafs family did not hear from him for four days, and he eventually turned up in Algiers, the capital of Algeria, where it is believed he will be tried for his unjust terrorism charges.

The commonly shared understanding is that Tunisian authorities, in contravention of the nation’s obligations as signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, as well as the Convention against Torture, violated the non-refoulement clause by repatriating Bouhafs to Algeria where “his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Latest Updates:

  • On 3 September 2021, Jubilee Campaign published a press release on Bouhafs’ case stating the following:
    • “Jubilee Campaign is concerned about the status of Algerian political activist Suleiman Bouhafs who disappeared from his home in Tunisia and reappeared days later in the capital of Algeria. The commonly shared fear is that Tunisia […] violated the non-refoulement clause by either directly repatriating Bouhafs or allowing Algerian actors to abduct and transport Bouhafs to Algeria where ‘his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. [….] The only assurance that Bouhafs will be safe from wrongful prosecution and mistreatment in detention, and that his family will be shielded from retaliation and persecution, would be prompt action by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to intervene and securely resettle Bouhafs and his family in a third country with a satisfactory human rights record.”
  • On 3 September 2021, Amnesty International released a statement on Bouhafs’ case stating the following:
    • “After facing two years of unjust imprisonment in Algeria, [Suleiman] Bouhafs went to Tunisia seeking safety, but it seems he was not far enough out of the Algerian government’s reach. The Tunisian government shares responsibility for his fate and should come clean about its role in his abduction and return. His deportation amounts to refoulement and is an extremely worrying precedent for Tunisia. Under international law no one should be returned to a country where they may be at serious risk of persecution or human rights violations. Algerian authorities should release [Suleiman] Bouhafs immediately and ensure he is not subjected to any ill-treatment in prison. Under no circumstances should a recognized refugee be returned to the place from which they have fled.” – Amna Guellali, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Amnesty International
  • On 30 August 2021, a group of 43 organizations called upon the Tunisian government to respect its obligations to protect the human rights of refugees and “express[ed] their indignation at the dangerous precedent caused by the Tunisian State of handing over a refugee benefiting from international protection to the authorities of his country, who are pursuing him on the basis of his political positions[….]”