The Algerian authorities must not block access for protesters to the capital, Algiers, on 20 September said Amnesty International calling for a halt to arbitrary arrests amidst a growing crackdown that has seen dozens of protesters arrested over the past 10 days.
The last week has seen a spike in arrests of peaceful protesters. At least 37 students, political and other civil society activists have been arrested since 11 September. While some have been released, at least 24 are still in detention. On 18 September, Algeria’s army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah declared that he had asked the national gendarmerie to “seize and fine vehicles and buses” heading to the capital for next Friday’s protest.
“The resumption of sweeping arbitrary arrests targeting groups of political and other civil society activists is a clear indication that the right to freedom of assembly and expression in Algeria is still very much under threat. The Algerian authorities must recognize that peaceful protesters’ calls for radical change will not just go away. They must listen to peaceful protesters instead of trying to crackdown on them,” said Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa Regional Director at Amnesty International.
“All those detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly must be immediately and unconditionally released and have all charges against them dropped.”
The resumption of sweeping arbitrary arrests targeting groups of political and other civil society activists is a clear indication that the right to freedom of assembly and expression in Algeria is still very much under threatHeba Morayef, MENA Regional Director, Amnesty International
Most recently, tens of students were arrested during a peaceful protest in Algiers on 17 September.
On 16 September, civil society and political activist Samir Belarbi was arrested while in the car with his friend by two police officers in plain clothes in Algiers. He is accused of “harming the integrity of the national territory” and illegal “advertising” that may harm the “national interest. He is detainedin El-Harrach prison awaiting his trial.
A group of at least 24 political and other civil society activists were arrested in various locations across Algiers on 13 September and are currently detained at El-Harrach prison in Algiers on charges of “incitement to an unarmed gathering” and “harming” national security simply for holding signs or taking part in protests, awaiting their trial.
Abdelgahni Badi, a member of the group’s defence team, and president of the Algiers office of the Ligue Algerian defence of human rights (LADDH), told Amnesty International that all those arrested that day had been active in political parties or prominent civil society organization like the Youth Action Rally (RAJ).
“They were interrogated about their human rights or political activism related to the Hirak [protests] which is proof that they were targeted for exercising their peaceful expression. This is an unacceptable violation of their rights and liberties,” he said.
At least 10 people were arrested on 11 September while they were on their way to a protest calling for the release of people detained for their opinions, near the University of Tizi Ouzou, a city in eastern Kabylia. One of the protesters, Mazigh Azwaw, told Amnesty International that he was interrogated about his membership in the Mouvement for the autodétermination of Kabylie (MAK), a political group as well as the fact that he is the spokesperson for the Union for the Republic of Kabylia (URK). He was detained around 9am, interrogated and released later that afternoon around 5:30pm.
Most of the rest of the group detained were members of political parties such as the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) or the Front of socialist forces (FFS).
Also on 11 September, Karim Tabbou, leader of the unauthorized UDS party (Union Democratique et Sociale) was detained at his home near Algiers without an arrest warrant. The next day he was charged with “attempting to demoralize the army”. According to one of his lawyers, the evidence brought against him was solely related to the expression of his political views. He is being held in El Kolea prison awaiting his trial. He is the second-high profile opposition politician to be arrested after Louisa Hanoune, chief of the Workers party, who was arrested on 9 May and is facing trial before a military court next week. International human rights standard ban the trial of civilians before military courts.
“The wave of arbitrary arrests by Algerian authorities appears to be part of an orchestrated attempt to intimidate demonstrators including political and other civil society activists ahead of the elections, creating a climate of fear and repression across the country. Instead of trampling all over the rights of Algerians the Algerian authorities should respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and instead learn to listen to protesters,” said Heba Morayef.