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Algerian union leader gets jail sentence for whistleblowing

2 February, 2017IndustriALL Global Union is calling on the Algerian government to drop charges against a union leader sentenced to six months in jail after revealing corruption at the state-owned energy company Sonelgaz. 

Mellal Raouf, who is President of IndustriALL affiliate the electricity and gas workers’ union SNATEGS, was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison for the theft of supposedly confidential documents that were already in the public domain and published on the internet. The documents exposed the illegal inflation of electricity bills by Sonelgaz over a ten-year period.

The overcharging only affected the lowest electricity consumers in Algeria, such as domestic properties and the poor. High voltage customers, such as business and industry, were untouched by the scandal.

Instead of punishing those responsible for the corruption, Sonelgaz, which is 100 per cent owned by the government, retaliated by bringing the charges against Raouf at a tribunal in Guelma in northeastern Algeria.

Raouf, who is not yet in prison, can appeal the tribunal’s verdict, made on 15 December 2016. A passionate trade unionist, Raouf has succeeded in establishing SNATEGS in 27 different regions across Algeria. It is not the first time he has come under attack from the authorities; he lost his job for his union activities in March 2013.

Following his dismissal, the same court in Guelma fined him and his fellow union leader 50,000 Algerian Dinar (US$455) each on allegations of work disruption.  He was also summoned to another tribunal in Biskra by authorities investigating cybercrime for reaching out to workers on Facebook.

Sonelgaz management continues to put pressure on Raouf’s colleagues and the leaders of SNATEGS, threatening them with dismissal unless they stop their union work.  

In a letter to the Minister of Labour in Algeria, Mohamed El Ghazi, IndustriALL condemned the sentencing of Mellal Raouf in the strongest possible terms and called on the on the government to immediately drop all charges against him.

Sonelgaz is the only provider of electricity and gas in Algeria, employing more than 86,000 workers. It has resisted independent unions with an iron fist, according to SNATEGS.

IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said:

“The government should be applauding Mellal Raouf for exposing years of corruption at Sonelgaz, rather than persecuting him. This verdict is entirely unjust and serves as a green light for corruption. We urge the government to step in and see that Sonelgaz drops all charges against Raouf so that justice prevails.”

Sign the International Trade Union Confederation petition in support of Melllal Raouf.