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Algeria: Scores detained in escalation of crackdown against activists

Algeria’s authorities launched a repressive crackdown that has seen scores of people detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly in the months ahead of legislative elections that took place on 12 June, said Amnesty International in a detailed analysis published today.

 The organization has documented 37 cases of activists who were unfairly detained for participating in protests or for expressing dissenting opinions between 26 March and 26 May. At least 273 activists are currently unfairly detained as of 23 June, according to local groups and human rights activists. 

“Algeria’s authorities have used every means at their disposal to crush dissent and silence protesters from the Hirak movement, carrying out scores of arrests and prosecutions of activists on trumped up charges simply for taking part in protests or for voicing dissenting political views,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

“The Algerian authorities must urgently put an end to this repressive clampdown and ensure the rights of peaceful protesters, journalists and human rights activists to freedom of expression, association and assembly are respected. All those unfairly prosecuted and detained for exercising their rights must be released and the charges against them must be dropped.”

Algeria’s authorities have used every means at their disposal to crush dissent and silence protesters from the Hirak movement, carrying out scores of arrests and prosecutions of activists on trumped up charges simply for taking part in protests or for voicing dissenting political views

Amna Guellali, Amnesty International

Since April 2021 Algeria’s authorities have increasingly resorted to the use of “terrorism” or “conspiracy against the state” charges to prosecute human rights defenders and Hirak activists. They have labelled two organizations voicing dissenting opinions – the opposition group Rachad and the Movement for the self determination of Kabylie (MAK) – as “terrorist” organizations.

According to Amnesty International’s research, judicial authorities have charged at least 17 activists with “terrorism” related offences since March. Among them are lawyer Abderraouf Arslane as well as human rights defenders Kaddour Chouicha, Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour, who along with 12 other Hirak activists were prosecuted for belonging to a “terrorist” group and “conspiracy against the state” on 28 April. 

On 8 June, authorities adopted amendments to the Penal Code expanding the definition of terrorism to include “attempting to gain power or change the system of governance by unconstitutional means.” This overly broad definition could lead to the criminalisation of peaceful calls for a change of government and the outlawing of the protest movement Hirak which has been calling for radical political change in Algeria.

“The move by Algeria’s authorities to label peaceful activists as terrorists and their rush to include a new broad definition of terrorism in their legislation is a signal of their chilling determination to intimidate peaceful critics into silence and decimate political opposition,” said Amna Guellali.

Algeria’s ministry of interior has also moved to dissolve civil society and political parties. In April and May, it sought the suspension or dissolution of two political parties, the Union for Change and Progress (UCP) and the Socialist Workers Party (PST) and the dissolution of civil society organization the Youth Action Rally (RAJ). 

On 30 May Algeria’s High Council of Magistracy, an administrative body which lacks independence as it is presided over by the President of Algeria, dismissed judge Sadedin Merzoug, for expressing his views in support of democracy and the Hirak movement in Algeria. Under international law, imposing sanctions or disciplining of judges for expressing their views publicly is considered unlawful.