Algeria

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ALGERIA 2021

Authorities continued to arrest, prosecute, detain and convict activists linked to the mass, peaceful protest movement known as Hirak, as well as human rights defenders and journalists for expressing their views or covering protests. Courts increasingly resorted to terrorism-related charges to prosecute and detain activists and journalists for their alleged ties with two unregistered political organizations. Authorities disbanded a prominent association. They also ordered at least three churches to close and prosecuted at least six Christians for exercising their right to freedom of religion. Thousands of asylum seekers and migrants were expelled to Niger without due process. Discrimination against women in law and practice continued, and consensual same-sex sexual relations remained criminalized.

Background

Following legislative elections in June, which saw the lowest turnout in 20 years, a new government was established in July.

In August, Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco.

According to the Algerian authorities, about 14.6% of the Algerian population was vaccinated against Covid-19 by December.

Freedom of expression

Authorities arrested and detained hundreds of political and civil society activists as well as journalists for expressing their views or for doing their jobs, prosecuting them under vaguely worded Penal Code provisions.1

From April onwards, authorities increasingly resorted to terrorism-related charges to arrest and detain human rights defenders, journalists and other individuals for their legitimate political activism or speech. Those targeted included members or perceived members of the unregistered political organizations Rachad and the Movement for the Self Determination of Kabylie (MAK), which in May the authorities declared were “terrorist” organizations.

In April, a court in Oran city in west Algeria prosecuted a group of 15 activists, human rights defenders and journalists – including Kaddour Chouicha, Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour – for “terrorism” for exercising their right to freedom of expression.2 In October, a judge transferred their files to a dedicated anti-terrorism chamber inside a court in the capital, Algiers.

In September, judicial authorities used terrorism-related charges to provisionally detain two journalists, Hassan Bouras and Mohamed Mouloudj, for their online criticisms of the authorities and alleged ties with Rachad and the MAK.3

Authorities also violated the right to freedom of expression in other ways during 2021. In April, a tribunal in Algiers ordered the provisional detention of five Hirak activists for videos they published online, including one that denounced the alleged sexual abuse of a boy in police custody. In July, authorities arrested and provisionally detained Fethi Ghares, leader of the Social and Democratic Movement (MDS), for publicly criticizing the authorities during a press conference at the party’s headquarters.

In May, the High Council of Magistracy dismissed Sadedin Merzoug, a judge and a founder of the Club of Algerian Magistrates, for expressing support for Hirak and democracy.

Authorities arbitrarily arrested at least three journalists for their work and prosecuted them on charges related to their reporting. They also closed two TV channels on security-related grounds and suspended two other channels for a week because of programmes they broadcast. In May, a tribunal in Algiers sentenced journalist Kenza Khatto from Radio M to a three-month suspended prison term for covering a protest.

In September, the Appeal Court in Algiers postponed the appeal of journalist Khaled Drareni to 2 December, to rule on his two-year prison sentence for covering Hirak protests.

In October, a tribunal in Tamanrasset city in the south sentenced on appeal journalist Rabah Karèche to a year in prison with six months suspended for “harming national security” and “spreading false news”.

Freedom of association and assembly

Hirak protests, which halted in 2020 due to Covid-19, resumed in February on a sporadic basis, with the authorities at times arresting, prosecuting and detaining peaceful protesters. In May, a court in Algiers ordered the pretrial detention of peaceful protesters Fatima Boudouda and Moufida Kharchi in connection with a demonstration on 21 May in Algiers, pending investigation on charges of “incitement to unarmed gathering” and “conspiracy against the state”. They were still detained at the end of the year.

In November, a court in Algiers sentenced Nacer Meghnine, president of the cultural association SOS Bab El-Oued, to eight months’ imprisonment and a fine for “harming the national interest” and “incitement to unarmed gathering”.

Authorities cracked down on associations and political parties who they perceived as organizing activities that did not conform with the law. In May, the interior ministry announced that only authorized protests were allowed. Hundreds of peaceful protesters were arrested and detained during the year.4

In April, the interior ministry asked the Administrative Tribunal to suspend two political parties, the Socialist Workers Party and the Union for Change and Progress.

On 13 October, the Administrative Tribunal dissolved the Youth Action Rally (RAJ) association.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Police continued to ill-treat activists and peaceful protesters during protests and in custody.5

On 26 March, in El Bayadh city in west Algeria, police arrested Hirak activist Ayoub Chahetou and raped him in custody by inserting a finger into his anus, according to his testimony. A judge refused to hear his testimony. Chahetou was sentenced ̶  on appeal ̶  to six months in prison, of which two months were suspended.

Freedom of religion and belief

Authorities used Decree 03-06 of 2006, which restricts the exercise of religions other than Islam, and the Penal Code to prosecute or convict at least 11 individuals for “exercising cults other than Islam” or “insulting” Islam.

In February, a court in Oran city sentenced on appeal Rachid Seighir, a Christian pastor and owner of a bookshop, and Nouah Hamimi, who worked in the bookshop, each to one year in prison and a fine for material that was in the shop. The two men were awaiting a ruling by the Supreme Court.

In April, a tribunal in Algiers convicted Islamic scholar Said Djabelkheir to three years in prison for “offending” Islam in online posts that, among other things, referred to some texts in the Qur’an as myths. On 4 May, a tribunal in Chéraga, a suburb of Algiers, sentenced activist Amira Bouraoui to two years in prison for “offending” the Prophet Muhammad in online posts about him. The verdict was confirmed on appeal on 18 October.

In December, a judge in Ain Defla city in north Algeria sentenced Foudhil Bahloul, a Christian convert, to a six-month prison sentence and a fine for illegally “accepting donations”.

On 7 July, authorities ordered the sealing and closure of three Protestant churches in Oran city.

Right to health

Between July and mid-August, a third wave of Covid-19 led to hundreds of deaths and a shortage of oxygen supplies.

The National Syndicate of Practitioners of Public Health recorded 470 deaths of health sector workers due to Covid-19 between March 2020, when the pandemic began, and August 2021.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Authorities continued to detain asylum seekers indefinitely while seeking to facilitate their deportation before their asylum claim had been fully evaluated. Irregular migration remained punishable by up to two years in prison. From December 2019 to June 2021, authorities arbitrarily detained in degrading and insanitary conditions seven Yemeni asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, after originally denying them access to the UN refugee agency.

Authorities continued to round up and collectively expel asylum seekers and migrants across the Niger border without due process or individual evaluations of their protection needs, often forcing them to walk long distances in the desert before reaching the nearest town in Niger. Expelled migrants often reported or bore signs of physical abuse. Between January and August, the project Alarm Phone Sahara documented the expulsions of at least 16,580 individuals, including children.

Algerian media reported interceptions by Algeria’s coastguard of migrants’ dinghies heading for Spain. One such interception returned Hirak activist Brahim Laalami, who was subsequently sentenced to three months in prison for irregular exit. At least 29 migrants attempting to reach Europe died off the coast of west Algeria between April and June.

Despite government efforts to vaccinate Sahrawi refugees in camps in Tindouf from the beginning of May, the Covid-19 wave in July resulted in over 63 deaths of refugees.

Women’s rights

The Penal Code and Family Code continued to unlawfully discriminate against women in matters of inheritance, marriage, divorce, child custody and guardianship.

Algerian law still does not explicitly recognize marital rape as a crime. The Penal Code’s “forgiveness clause” continued to allow rapists to escape punishment if their victims pardon them.

Authorities took no steps to address violence against women. The women’s group Feminicides Algérie recorded at least 55 femicides in 2021, saying that the police had failed to adequately investigate those cases or prosecute those responsible.

LGBTI people’s rights

The Penal Code continued to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts, which remained punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Death penalty

Courts continued to hand down death sentences; no executions were reported.


  1. “Algeria: Repressive tactics used to target Hirak activists two years on”, 22 February
  2. “Algeria: Drop trumped-up charges against three human rights defenders”, 17 May
  3. “Algeria: Stop using bogus terrorism charges to prosecute peaceful activists and journalists”, 28 September
  4. “Algeria: Scores detained in escalation of crackdown against activists”, 24 June
  5. “Algeria: Islamic scholar sentenced to three-year prison term for ‘offending Islam’”, 22 April