The Algerian government must end its relentless assault on freedom of expression and peaceful activism, Amnesty International said today, launching a new campaign to shed light on the impact of the authorities’ repressive crackdown on brave dissenting voices.
Dozens of activists, journalists and human rights defenders are currently behind bars and the number is increasing as the government carries out more arrests and brings further charges against people who are simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Algeria’s dire human rights record is subject to some rare international scrutiny amid an ongoing visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association to the country.
“In Algeria today, no one speaking out bravely and critically is safe from the authorities’ repressive clutches, anyone deemed to be a threat from students to the elderly – have found themselves facing harassment, intimidation or arbitrary arrest simply for exercising their human rights,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The government’s crackdown must end immediately and all those who were arrested solely for peacefully expressing their opinion or criticizing the government, including journalists and media workers who have been convicted of vague and overbroad offences such as ‘spreading fake news’ or ‘offending public officials’, must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
Algeria’s authorities must also engage constructively with the Special Rapporteur during his visit to the country, ensuring that he has full and unfettered access and is able to have confidential and unsupervised contact with anyone he wishes to meet. The authorities must also ensure that no individual who engages with the Special Rapporteur will face reprisals.
Over the past two years, the Algerian authorities have prosecuted, arrested or detained at least 12 journalists and media workers.
So far in 2023, the authorities have prosecuted five journalists, shut down at least two media companies and suspended one media outlet for 20 days.
Most recently, on 29 August, the Constantine first instance court sentenced Algerian journalist Mustapha Bendjama and Algerian-Canadian researcher Raouf Farrah to 2 years in prison and gave each a 200,000DA fine. Both were sentenced based on unfounded charges of “publishing classified information” and receiving international funds with the intention of harming public order.
In Algeria today, no one speaking out bravely and critically is safe from the authorities’ repressive clutches…Heba Morayef, Amnesty International
In June 2023, the Algiers appeals court increased the prison sentence of prominent journalist Ihsane El Kadi from five years to seven years, of which two years were suspended. He has been detained in El Harrach prison in Algiers since December 2022 on charges relating to his journalism.
Attacks on freedom of assembly
Although the protests that erupted in 2019 have been stifled, the authorities continue to use harmful laws to restrict the right of peaceful assembly, including Article 15 of Law 90-91 on Public Meetings and Demonstrations, which provides that “public gatherings need to be preapproved”.
On 20 August, authorities arrested at least 40 activists to prevent a gathering in Ifri, a city east of Algeria, to commemorate the 1956 Soummam congress. They were released later that day, but taking measures to prevent a gathering from occurring is totally contrary to the protection of the right of peaceful assembly.
The government has repeatedly targeted Mohamed Tadjadit, who was known during the Hirak protest movement as “the poet of Hirak”, arresting him at least four times because of his participation in peaceful protests and for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Mohamed told Amnesty International that prison authorities subjected him to ill-treatment during his multiple arrests. He said that, when he and two fellow detainees went on hunger strike in February 2022 to demand either their release or the start of their trial, the prison authorities responded by kicking, slapping and beating them.
Attacks on freedom of association
Baseless terrorism charges have also been used to target several activists in relation to their activism, expressing themselves on social media or for being members of groups seen to be oppositional, including Mohad Gasmi, Slimane Bouhafs and Mohamed Benhlima. One human rights organization Youth Action Rally (RAJ) has been forced to dissolve and a political party, Democracy and Social Movement (MDS), was forced to suspend its activities.
Algerian authorities also led a targeted attack on the country’s oldest independent human rights organization, the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH). In January, the authorities closed LADDH’s affiliate organization in Tizi Ouzou, blocked access to their centre in Bejaia, and dissolved the organization following a complaint filed by the Ministry of the Interior in June 2022.
“The visit of the UN Special Rapporteur is an opportunity for Algerian authorities to engage with the UN and to change course to enhance their protection of human rights,” said Heba Morayef.