Repression intensifies as Hirak protests resume
Hirak protests resumed in February 2021, after a year’s suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities responded to the protests with the arrest and prosecution of peaceful protesters and by using excessive force to disperse the protests.
During two protests that took place in April 2021, reports indicated that the police arrested at least 60 protesters. In one of the protests that took placed on 30th April, the police attacked protesters with batons and in some instances even dragged them away.
Since the week of 21st May 2021, Hirak protests have not been able to take place in most parts of the country due to heavy police presence, mass arrests and intimidation of protesters.
On 18th February 2021, President Tebboune dissolved parliament and elections were scheduled for 12th June 2021. In the following months, as people took to the streets to protest, the government intensified its crackdown against activists, protesters, journalists and civil society organisations.
Ahead of the Legislative elections, the government arrested and prosecuted several activists. According to Amnesty International, at least 37 activists were arrested, prosecuted or detained between 26th March and 26th May on Penal Code charges, including terrorism charges.
In addition, the Ministry of Interior requested the suspension of the Youth Action Rally, claiming that the organisation engaged “in activities different from those it was created for, including suspicious activities with foreigners and activities of a political nature for the purpose of creating chaos and disturbing the public order.” A court order to dissolve the organisation was issued in October.
Further, the High Council for National Security labeled the group Movement for the Self-determination of the Kabylie (MAK) - which calls for the self-determination of the Kabylie region - as a terrorist organisation.
In June, the authorities broadened the definition of terrorism in Article 87bis of the Penal Code to include “attempting to gain power or change the system of governance by unconstitutional means.” The overly broad definition of terrorism is being used to prosecute activists and human rights defenders.
No other Arab Spring or Arab Spring 2.0 country has experienced such a sustained mobilization of nonviolent and large-scale protests as Algeria's Hirak movement, yet the military-backed leaders still refuse to allow a genuine democratic opening. https://t.co/vPhAVydAyg pic.twitter.com/9rtMA4hPIY— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) March 3, 2021
Several journalists were arrested and prosecuted, with some sentenced to years in prison, often on speech-related charges.
In January 2021, Walid Kechida, the founder of the satirical Facebook page Hirak Memes was sentenced to three years in prison for “attacking constituted bodies” and “insulting and offending the President.”
Further, in May 2021, Radio M journalist Kenza Khatto was arrested and received a three-month suspended sentence for “participation in an unarmed gathering” and “dissemination of news that could undermine national unity."
In the context of the Hirak protests, and especially ahead of the parliament elections, journalists were also the target of attacks. According to RSF, many reporters had been the subject of physical violence and many were also arrested without any justification.
On 13th June, the Ministry of Communication withdrew the accreditation of the French TV channel France 24, citing unspecified “breaches of ethics” and the channel’s “manifestly hostile agenda against Algeria.” Two weeks later, authorities withdrew the accreditation of Saudi TV channel Al-Arabiya under unspecified accusations of “propagating misinformation and practicing media manipulation."
#Algeria-n young journalist Kenza Khatto has been in custody since yesterday. She was violently arrested in Algiers while doing her job. Kenza belongs in the newsroom with her colleagues. She is not a criminal. #JournalismIsNotACrime pic.twitter.com/LRR1cpE8Ua— nozha (@4nozha) May 15, 2021