Algeria: Activist jailed over anti-government placard must be released

 Responding to the news that a court in the city of Mascara has sentenced activist, Hadj Ghermoul, to six months in prison and a fine for “offending public institutions” after a Facebook photo was posted showing him holding a placard opposing a fifth term in office for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Amnesty’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa Heba Morayef said:

“The conviction of Hadj Ghermoul is a severe blow for freedom of expression in Algeria. It is completely absurd that he is facing six months behind bars simply for peacefully expressing his political views.

It is completely absurd that he is facing six months behind bars simply for peacefully expressing his political views.
Heba Morayef, Director for the Middle East and North Africa

“His arrest and conviction are another signal of the Algerian authorities’ intolerance of political opposition and a worrying sign that they are stepping up arbitrary arrests and detentions ahead of the country’s presidential elections in April.

“The Algerian authorities should quash Hadj Ghermoul’s conviction and release him immediately and unconditionally. No one should be jailed for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Background:

Hadj Ghermoul from Tizi, in the Mascara province, is an activist from the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) and a member of the National Committee for the Defence of the Rights of the Unemployed (CNDDC).

Hadj Ghermoul has been charged with “offending public bodies”. He was arrested on 27 January days after a photo was published on Facebook in which he is seen with a friend holding up a sign saying “No to a fifth term in office”, referring to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Algeria’s 81-year-old president, who is in poor health, has been in power for nearly 20 years.

Police officers approached him on the street on 27 January,  followed him throughout the day and repeatedly verbally harassed him. When Hadj Ghermoul told the officers they should either leave him alone or arrest him, he was brought to the police station and accused of assaulting them. He remained in custody until 29 January.

Algeria’s ruling coalition parties recently announced they have nominated President Bouteflika as a candidate to run for a fifth term in office in the upcoming elections.