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Portugal: Renditions continue: Algerian prisoner abducted and deported
01 October 2006
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