Algerian authorities must stop prosecuting peaceful protesters and allow the judiciary to function independently, Amnesty International said today, ahead of further nationwide protests expected tomorrow.
Since a wave of protests began on 22 February to oppose President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid to run for a fifth term in office, at least 311 people have been arrested according to the Algerian General Directorate of National Security. Protesters have been charged with “unarmed gatherings”, acts of violence and theft.
“Algeria’s authorities should drop charges of “unarmed gatherings” against anyone who took part in the mass demonstrations peacefully and amend all laws that criminalize freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
Algeria’s authorities should drop charges of 'unarmed gatherings' against anyone who took part in the mass demonstrations peacefully and amend all laws that criminalize freedom of expression and peaceful assemblyMagdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Algerian authorities to amend article 97 on “unarmed gatherings” of the country’s Penal Code that has been used to prosecute peaceful protesters who can face up to one year in prison.
The organization also called for the country’s judiciary to be allowed to carry out their roles independently, and without interference or pressure from authorities.
“There should be no disciplinary measures taken against judges willing to respect due process and fair trial rights for all those appearing before the courts in relation to the protests. Algeria has an obligation to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and protect judges and lawyers from any form of political influence,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.
The majority of recent protests have been peaceful, but some protesters have thrown stones at police officers in response to tear gas and rubber bullets being fired.
Since 22 February, mass demonstrations have taken place in Algiers and the rest of the country despite a ban on such demonstrations in the capital introduced in 2001, and a prohibition of all unauthorized protests, including peaceful assemblies whose organizers have either not sought, or been denied, authorization.
Amnesty International observed three protests on 15, 19 and 22 March in Algiers.
On Friday 15 March, 75 people were arrested, at least 20 of whom have since been charged with participating in “unarmed gatherings” and brought before a judge in the Sidi M’hamed Tribunal in Algiers. The other protesters were charged with acts of violence and theft. All were released on 17 March but summoned to appear again before the court on 23 May.
On the same day, Amnesty International documented the arrest of one protester as he was talking on the telephone and leaving the protest in Algiers. According to a local journalist, there was no violence or disturbance around the location and time of his arrest.
On 18 March, Abdelkader Meslem, the judge in charge of the cases linked to these arrests, was suspended for refusing to carry out what he said were instructions from the president of the tribunal to convict all protesters.
Judges and lawyers gathered on 21 March in front of the Sidi M’hamed Tribunal in solidarity and called for the protection of independent justice. A few days earlier, a judge from Tipasa and a lawyer from Constantine were summoned for voicing their support for the protests.
Amnesty International has also documented the case of a 14-year-old boy injured by a rubber bullet fired by police in the Telemly district on 22 March. According to observers, at the end of the protest, the police began to shoot tear gas and rubber bullets. Witnesses also reported that police used tasers and Long Range Acoustic Devices to disperse the crowd during protests on 24 February and 1 March.