Since 22 February 2019, largely peaceful mass demonstrations have been taking place every Friday across Algeria calling for political reform. Initially opposing a fifth mandate of then-President Bouteflika, the protests have since been calling for “a complete change of the political system.”
Algerian authorities have clamped down on the Hirak protests since their start. They have sometimes used unnecessary and excessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrations and arbitrarily detained peaceful protesters in clear violation of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
New presidential Elections are due to be held on 12 December, despite massive rejection from protesters in the streets who are demanding a complete change of the political system. In the weeks leading up to the general election, arrests of peaceful protesters have escalated.
No one should face harassment, intimidation or arrest for covering protests or expressing criticism of electoral candidatesHassina Oussedik, Director of Amnesty International Algeria
Crackdown in Numbers
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Crackdown on anti-election protesters
Arrests began to significantly increase with the start of the election campaigning with at least 300 people swept up in waves of arrests between 17 and 24November, according to human rights lawyers and the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH, Ligue Algerienne de Defense des Droits de l’Homme).
Negative rhetoric against opponents of the presidential elections has also intensified in recent days.
On 17 November, at least 37 peaceful protesters opposing the presidential elections were arrested during an election campaign rally held by Ali Benflis, one of the presidential candidates, in Tlemcen, western Algeria. Four protesters were convicted of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and received 18-month prison sentences and another 14 were given two-month suspended prison sentences.
More than 150 people were also arrested in Algiers on 20 November during a nighttime protest opposing elections, according to Le Comité National pour la Libération des Détenus (CNLD). Most were later released but eight were charged with “harming national security” and “inciting an unarmed gathering” and remain in pre-trial detention. Another 21 were released but must appear again in court on 6 January, on charges including “inciting an unarmed gathering” “civil disobedience” and “harming national security”.
Halim Feddal, a human rights defender and founder of the Algerian National Association Against Corruption, was arbitrarily arrested on 17 November as he left a peaceful demonstration opposing elections in Chlef. He remains in pre-trial detention.
Other arrests of anti-election campaigners have been carried out in Ouargla, Boumerdes, Annaba and other cities during presidential candidates’ rallies.
Violations Committed by the Algerian Authorities
Beatings, Arrests, and Sentencing
Ramzi Yettou died aged 22 after being brutally beaten by the police on 19 April 2019. Since the start of hirak, Ramzi and his friends made the 50 km trip from Bougara (Blida) to Algiers every Friday. On 12 April, the protests were dispersed by security forces using teargas and water cannons. Ramzi and his friends were heading home from the protests when the police stopped the truck they were travelling in and beat them with sticks. Before he lost consciousness, Ramzi told a first aid volunteer that he had been beaten by police. He never regained consciousness and died on Friday 19 April.
Amnesty International has also recorded at least three cases of ill-treatment of detainees in custody. Lawyers of Chems Eddine Brahim Lalami, an activist from Bordj Bou Arréridj, arrested on 20 November, said they saw bruises on his face and arm and was unable to stand up, indicating he was beaten in custody. He has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest awaiting trial and is currently on hunger strike. Another peaceful political activist Sofiane Babaci was beaten upon his arrest on 26 November in Boumerdes, according to one of his lawyers. Younes Redjal, a protester arrested during a demonstration in Oran the same day had bruises on his arm and was nearly unconscious when he was found by LADDH’s members at a police station. Redjal told Amnesty International that he was beaten upon his arrest.
Wave of arrests targeting Hirak protest movement
Since September onwards, the authorities have also stepped up arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters from the Hirak movement who have held weekly demonstrations each Friday since 22 February. On 22 November, dozens were detained across the country. Among those briefly detained was Kaddour Chouicha, member of LADDH. On the same day in Algiers two activists from the Youth Action Rally (Le Rassemblement actions jeunesse – RAJ) were arrested at their offices after returning from a protest. They have been accused of “harming national security” and “inciting an unarmed gathering”.
Security forces also forcibly dispersed a gathering of mothers of Hirak detainees in Algiers on 28 November. On 29 November at least 25 peaceful protesters were arrested during the protests in Algiers. At least three of them remain in pre-trial detention.
On Tuesday 12 November political activist Messaoud Leftissi was sentenced to six months in prison and a 20,000 Algerian dinars fine (166USD). Messaoud was arrested during the 21 June protests in Algiers simply for holding the Amazigh flag.
On Tuesday 12 November Samira Messouci was sentenced to one year in prison including a 6 months suspended sentence and a fine of 30 000 Algerian dinars (250USD). Samira is a political activist and the youngest locally elected politician from Tizi Ouzou. She was arrested during the 28 June protests and has been charged with “harming the integrity” of the National territory based on article 79 of the Algerian penal code.
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