Portugal: Renditions continue: Algerian prisoner abducted and deported


Sofiane Laib, an Algerian who was serving a sentence in Portugal in a prison establishment run by the judicial police in Lisbon since 2 April 2003, was abducted shortly before his 3 years and six month sentence was due to expire, a date that was established in an order to set him free as 2 October 2006. Laib's lawyer, Florinda Baptista, explained that he was taken away by armed Serviços de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF, Foreigners and Border Services) officers at 4 a.m. on 28 September 2006, prior to being flown to Madrid airport en route to Algeria. The prisoner, whose sentence was for offences relating to organised crime and phonecard fraud, had an administrative expulsion order pending following the invalidation of his residence permit. An appeal against the expulsion order had been filed, leading a judge in Lisbon to suspend the expulsion. The SEF was aware of this, but nonetheless proceeded to abduct the man to hand him over to Algerian authorities. Baptista argues that SEF originally instigated the expulsion order, which was "not required as additional punishment" by the judicial sentence. The procedure through which SEF got hold of the man involved the prison service direction and court for the execution of sentences issuing a release order a couple of days before his scheduled release "for the detainee's benefit" and "due to the difficulty of finding a plane to Algeria". SEF officers threatened to use violence if he resisted, and he was handed over by prison authorities.

Florinda Baptista claims that this kidnapping occurs within the framework of the CIA renditions, whereby "citizens are delivered to their countries of origin, which, as they are totalitarian states and friends of the USA, torture them and oblige them to confess to facts that are untrue and condemn them for terrorist offences". She calls for "help from all the people and media outlets and institutions and sovereign bodies, because this is proof that Europe continues to cooperate with the CIA to expel foreign citizens".

A striking element of Baptista's account is that she witnessed the defendant's involvement in an interrogation involving three FBI officers and a State prosecutor from Virginia on 30 April 2004 in Lisbon, conducted with the cooperation of the general prosecutor's office. She was contacted and told to appear in the Departamento Central de Investigação e Acção Penal (DCIAP, Central Investigation and Penal Action Department), and once she arrived, she was told the men would talk to him "just to clarify some matters" by the assistant prosecutor of the Republic, Vítor Magalhães. It then surfaced that such matters would be clarified without her presence, as the four men from the U.S., a translator and a Portuguese inspector entered the room, whereas the man's lawyer wasn't allowed to do so.

Another interesting aspect that is highlighted in the Baptista's account is the influence that inaccurate press reports that appeared in several Portuguese newspapers and magazines and then bounced around the world (including Algeria), branding Laib a "terrorist" suspected of links with Al Qaida, had on Algerian authorities. She notes that since the start of his detention, Laib was treated as a terrorist by both the media and prison authorities (his partner and son, who live in Lille, were prevented from contacting him under this pretext), even though terrorist charges were never brought against him. In his trial in Lisbon, the police had accused him of terrorist offences (for acquaintance with terrorists) but these were rejected by the prosecuting magistrate and court. Laib had no previous criminal record in Algeria. Nor did members of his family, who were nonetheless called to testify about Laib's suspected links to Al Qaida before the Algerian authorities, including his father, eldest brother and two other brothers, and they are allegedly under surveillance by the Algerian secret police at present. Baptista herself was twice asked about Laib's supposed links to Al Qaida in the Algerian embassy. Her fear is that the defendant may end up receiving a life sentence (which is applicable for terrorist offences in Algeria) on the basis of false allegations.

ACED and the Colectivo de Solidariedade Múmia Abu-Jamal (Mumia Abu-Jamal Solidarity Collective) issued a joint press statement on 3 October 2006 condemning the rendition as an "act of governmental disobedience to a judicial decision concerning the safeguard of a person against whom no charges are pending". The "abduction" of Laib, "contrary to a judicial order and in an establishment of the judicial police", is viewed as evidence that in certain circumstances, high-ranking officials are unable to prevent "agents of the state from becoming criminals concealed behind illegal political strategies".

They take the opportunity to ask a number of questions, firstly about the principle of non-interference in judicial matters:
-can the executive, when it cannot avoid them, blatantly disregard decisions made by courts?
-can it do so without a reaction from the judicial powers?
-and can it do so on request from foreign bodies, which themselves are accused of operating outside of the national and international legal framework?

Secondly, about the illegal rendition network:

-what do the Portuguese authorities -executive, legislative and judicial- know about this illegal network?
-how it is possible that, disguised as members of SEF, agents from such a network enter Portuguese prisons?
-how is it possible for the prison services to allow people from another state institution to overcome their duty in accordance with judicial decisions?
-who were the members of the armed group that escorted the person to the airport in the care of the Portuguese state?
-how could airport security personnel allow their presence and activities?
-who chartered the airport that transported the kidnapped man from Lisbon to Madrid?
-for what purpose was this investment made?
-what do the Portuguese authorities think of doing to restore the authority of the Portuguese state that was called into question in this event?

The statement also highlights the desperate efforts made by his lawyer to protect him from what it refers to as a "siege" by the US police, which appeared to have obtained a positive result in court, only for Sofiane Laib to be "taken to Madrid, in a private jet, at the orders of an illegal and clandestine international network with the active participation of the Portuguese state".

In response to Baptista's claims that SEF kidnapped Laib and failed to comply with a judicial decision, SEF issued a statement to deny any wrongdoing, arguing that it merely "executed an administrative expulsion order" in compliance with ordinary expulsion procedures and legality. As for the charges of having ignored a judicial decision, the statement claims that "it would be seriously detrimental for the public interest not to execute the decision of removal from the national territory". Baptista responded by criticising the fact that, as the man's lawyer, she was not notified of this expulsion, and described the fact that SEF contacted the director of the prison rather than the competent court as "unacceptable", filing a complaint before the justice minister. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Laib may have been held in Madrid (he reportedly spoke to relatives from a telephone in Madrid on 2 October) and questioned about the train bombings on 11 March 2004 before being expelled to Algeria. It is unclear whether he is actually in Madrid or in Algeria, although official sources (a statement from SEF reported in Publico newspaper) indicate that he was handed over to Algerian authorities in accordance with "normal procedures".

Sources

Declaração conjunta ACED (Associação Contra a Exclusão pelo Desenvolvimento) e CMA-J (Joint Declaration by ACED and CMA-J), Lisbon, 3.10.2006. (in Portuguese, pdf)*

Extracts from summary of events by Laib's lawyer, Florinda Baptista.

Call for the press conference about this case held on 3 October 2006, Florinda Baptista.

Correio da Manhã 9.6.2004, 15.7.2005; Colectivo de Solidariedade Mumia Abu-Jamal, 7.3.2004; Publico 4.10.2006.



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