The Algerian government intends to shield military trials with the help of the new Military Justice Law. The project, which has been gathering dust in a drawer since 2018, was revitalised by the President of the Republic, Abdelmajjid Tebboune, during the last Council of Ministers held on Monday in Algiers.
According to the report given by the official Algerian government news agency, Tebboune's government wants to veto the press and the public on military trials.
"The president of the Republic has given instructions to enrich the draft law, insisting on the imperative of taking into account the specificity of the missions it covers and the confidentiality required in the context of protecting the supreme interests of the state," the Algérie Presse Service report said. "Condition any statement to the media on matters related to national defence and of interest to public opinion, with the prior authorisation of the Minister of National Defence," it continues, referring to any matter related to the armed forces and national defence.
In the past, Algeria's military courts have extended their area of operation to cover accusations made against civilians, as happened in 2020 with the leader of the Algerian Workers' Party, Louisa Hanoune, in the context of the alleged plot by Said Bouteflika, the brother of the former president who died in 2021. In that case, accusations of "attacking military authority" elevated the judicial process to the armed forces rather than remaining in the more transparent civilian courts.
While the trial against Hanoune and Bouteflika may have been followed to some extent by the media and the international community, with France leading the way, the amendments that the Tebboune government intends to make to the draft Military Justice Law would nullify the already weak guarantees of the Hanoune-Bouteflika trial.
Trials involving high-ranking military officers are recurrent in Algeria. It should be remembered that the Algerian military wields significant power and that the leadership headed by the Chief of Defence Staff, Said Chengriha, exercises great influence over the civilian government. The pairing involving the military is commonly known as "Pouvoir", which means "power" in French.
Since their independence, the generals' hand in Algerian politics has made them the target of attacks from other factions within the state. The most recent military trials that brought three high-ranking generals to the dock were those of Generals Median, Nezzar and Tartag. Two of them were in charge of the intelligence services and the third was head of the Algerian Defence General Staff in the 1990s and 2000s. These intentions on the part of the government suggest a continuation of the collusion between the armed forces and the civilian government that has marked Algeria since the fall of Bouteflika in 2019. With these new measures, the armed forces will be able to continue to deal with this type of dossier more discreetly and behind closed doors.
The lack of resources on the civilian side of the government makes it impossible to stop the military from seeking more political power in Algeria. One of the crucial steps in this power grab was the transfer of internal intelligence to the armed forces, a precious resource that Abdelaziz Bouteflika kept for himself during his years in power since the end of the civil war.