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NZ Refugee Ahmed Zaoui Languishes In Jail In Algeria, No Trial Date On The Horizon

New Zealand refugee Ahmed Zaoui has been given no date for his trial in Algeria on subversion charges.

The political activist was arrested at gunpoint the day after he wrote a public statement in October, and has been held in prison since then.

He was "enduring, and doing as best as he can", according to his New Zealand lawyer, Deborah Manning, although it was a very hard time for him and his family.

The future was unclear including when he might stand trial, she said.

"'There's no dates unfortunately in Algeria, the rule of law is wanting and so there are no dates. He's in a very unknowable landscape. It's a political charge based on a communiqué he had issued with others and he had issued a number of communiqués. It just appears that the political winds at that time meant that he was unfortunately subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.

"He had issued a political communiqué, essentially calling for peace and dialogue in Algeria over the issues that the country is facing concerning political and economic instability. And then the following day, there was a raid on his home along with other people who had signed the communiqué, and they were rounded up and arrested."

He is a dual New Zealand and Algerian citizen, and he had been in the north African state with his family in recent times after the political situation improved there.

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"There's a local (New Zealand) embassy in Egypt, but they're very limited in terms of what they can do, because Mr Zaoui is classified as an Algerian citizen. So there is, in terms of diplomatic arrangements, little to be done, unfortunately."

Zaoui, who is 62 and diabetic, was recognised as a refugee by New Zealand 20 years ago, with the tribunal finding he was a political activist but not a member of a terrorist group, as alleged by security services.

Refugee tribunal hearing points out 'untruths'

The former Imam and university lecturer had stood as an FIS candidate in 1991 elections, but following a military coup the political group was banned. In January 1992, he made a speech at a rally describing the military regime as illegitimate, and he was arrested later that day.

Zaoui was later sentenced in his absence to death on charges of carrying arms, attacking national security and forming an armed group, and fled to Europe in 1993.

After further death sentences and attempting to get asylum in Belgium and Switzerland, he and his family flew to Malaysia in 2000. Fearing that the Algerian authorities were planning a move against him, he left for New Zealand in 2002.

Zaoui's lawyers found that France, Britain, Belgium and Switzerland had provided documentation that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) relied on and accepted as the truth in a post 9/11 atmosphere, but that it was evidence contaminated by Algerian security forces.

The refugee tribunal hearing his appeal expressed surprise at how 'limited and questionable' the SIS evidence was, and dismay at leaks to media in New Zealand. In its lengthy judgement, it pointed to official and media willingness to tell and amplify 'untruths', based on "their preconceptions and fears about Islamic 'terrorists'."

"The same untruths also constitute further instances of an important theme that has emerged from our consideration of the evidence, namely the process by which highly prejudicial misinformation concerning [Zaoui] quickly acquires the status of received 'facts' - a process reinforced by the diffusion and recycling of these 'facts' by the media/internet as well as between intelligence services and immigration and other officials in a range of countries."

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