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Friday, March 13, 1998 Published at 23:21 GMT


Algeria - a nation growing in fear

Evidence is growing to suggest that the authorities in Algeria are guilty of human rights abuses against its people. BBC Foreign Correspondent Fergeal Keane reports from the capital Algiers to investigate claims involving the murder and disappearance of hundreds of people from the city. Their stories speak of grave torture and abuse.

Suspended above the sea, the glittering lights of Algiers. A city of Mediterranean charm and medieval brutality. In this city, people can vanish into police custody and never be seen again.

Feargal Keane's report from Algiers
In a hillside suburb, these relatives of the disappeared were leaving a meeting with their lawyer. Such is the fear on all sides, we had to protect their identity but also that of the policemen, whose job it was to watch them and us.

[ image: Ali's son is one of he many missing]
Ali's son is one of he many missing
Inside the office, away from the police, we met Ali, whose son disappeared two years ago after being accused of supporting the Islamic extremists.

"My son voted for The Feast, the Islamic Party, but he didn't create them. When I went to look for him with my wife, the police said they knew nothing about him. They arrested me, they tortured me and they raped my wife."

The disappeared come from all walks of life and human rights groups say they number in their hundreds. To be a human rights lawyer in this climate takes considerable courage as Tahri Mohammed knows only too well.

[ image: Tahri Mohammed]
Tahri Mohammed
He says that 21 of his colleagues have been murdered. As for the disappeared, he believes many are dead.

"Yes, it's true. Most of them if not all, are tortured and in some cases, the torture is taken too far and the people die.

[ image: Ahmed is one of many who fear for their lives]
Ahmed is one of many who fear for their lives
Ahmed, who says he still lives in fear of his life, says he was beaten and sexually assaulted in custody.

"They stripped my clothes off and beat me, over and over. Then they made me sit on a bottle. It was forced into me and I began to bleed. They put electric shocks through my genitals. Two years on, I can still feel the pain of that."

The government does have its own human rights organisation, and its director rejects claims of widespread state abuses.

[ image: Rezag Bara]
Rezag Bara
Rezag Bara from Algeria's National Human Rights Observatory says: "That is false, totally false. There have been some cases of complaint but they are limited and the authorities are acting on these cases. The people know who is behind the terrorism and they know the army and the police are there to protect the army and its sovereignty."

This is a place where journalism is a constant battle to separate truth from lies, fact from unsubstantiated allegation. But there is now a growing body of evidence to suggest that the government has been guilty of brutal abuses of human rights in its attempt to destroy the Islamic extremists.

Until now, the West has paid little attention to these abuses. Pressure is growing into an inquiry into what is happening here.

[ image: Pictures of those lost without trace]
Pictures of those lost without trace
But the security forces, all powerful and highly secretive, will resist pressure from the EU and human rights groups for an inquiry into this dirty war. So for the families of the disappeared, there seems little to hope for.

"I just want to know if my son is alive or dead," says Ali, "and if he is dead, just tell me where he is so I can go and see him."

High on the slopes above Algiers, a grand monument celebrates Algeria's freedom from French rule. But the truth is that three decades after independence, Algeria has become a state of fear.

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