NGOs call on authorities to end persecution of activists

According to Freedom House's 2020 Freedom in the World Report, Algeria is considered 'not free' in terms of civil and political rights. The country has been considered 'not free,' according to Freedom House's indicators and methodology, almost every year since the organisation first released its annual report in 1973. This is largely due to a closed political space and a history of a ruling elite comprised of a few who hold power and control the military. In addition to a lack of political pluralism, the space for free expression, peaceful assembly, and association has been severely limited and in some cases, completely closed. 

In September 2020, 31 organisations called on the Algerian authorities to end their ongoing and accelerated persecution of activists, critical voices, and independent journalists. The statement came out ahead of the 1 November constitutional referendum and also in regards to worrisome COVID-related restrictions on civil and political freedoms. The signatories declared that:

"Since the outbreak of COVID-19, and the suspension of the peaceful protest movement called the Hirak, Algerian authorities have accelerated arbitrary prosecutions and harassment of journalists, peaceful activists, rights defenders, and citizens expressing dissenting opinions".

Expression

According to a February 2020 analysis by Article 19, threats to freedom of expression in Algeria have included punishing people for opinions expressed on personal social media accounts. For example, Algerian writer and activist Anouar Rahmani was arrested for critical and satirical social media posts that referred to the former president and the former head of the army. On 7th November 2020, he was convicted of "insulting public officials" and fined 50,000 Dinar (330 EUR). 

Other concerning developments regarding freedom of expression include:

  • Access to independent information has been limited in the country and those reporting on sensitive issues can face censorship. For example, six online news websites reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Hirak protests became unavailable on Algerian networks in April and May 2020. 
  • Algeria's parliament passed amendments to the Penal Code in April 2020, which included provisions against "spreading false news and harming national unity and public order". These vaguely-worded changes could be used to further silence critical voices. If found guilty of violating this law, one could face up to three years imprisonment.
Laws to silence critical voices

Algeria's 'fake news' legislation (Law 20-06) carries with it a prison sentence of one to three years for "anyone who willfully disseminates or propagates, by any means, to the public false or slanderous information or news likely to undermine public security or order".

Article 19 MENA and the MENA Rights Group have drawn attention to the vague definition in the 'fake news' law and are concerned that it empowers "the authorities with disproportionate and discretionary power to suppress critical content and controversial information". 

Journalists covering controversial and sensitive issues in real time, such as protests and other actions, often face persecution from the authorities. On 10th August 2020, an Algerian court convicted journalist Khaled Drareni to three years in prison for "endangering national unity". Drareni had reported on the 2019 Hirak Movement (mass demonstration) that led to long-standing President Abdelaziz Bouteflikar relinquishing power (see Peaceful Assembly). The Arab Network for Human Rights Information condemned the court's ruling against the journalist, stating that: 

"The ruling issued against Khaled Drareni contradicts the current government’s pledge to respect the law and not prosecute those involved in the Hirak Movement". 

Association

Algerians associated with independent organisations and movements face ongoing repressions. Front Line Defenders provides an up-to-date list of HRDs and journalists currently imprisoned or detained in Algeria. 

In April 2020, a court sentenced Abdelouahab Fersaoui, president of the civic group Association Rassemblement Action Jeunesse, to one year in prison for social media posts in which he condemned the authorities' persecution of protesters and activists connected to the country's Hirak Movement. On 28th May 2019, human rights defender Kamel Eddine Fekhar died in custody after a 50-day hunger strike over his unlawful detention. The activist had been detained for expressing critical opinions of the government.

On 24th November 2020, HRD, journalist, and member of the Algerian League for Human Rights, Said Boudour, was sentenced to one year in prison in absentia for charges related to "defamation and insulting the regime". On 21st June, activist Amira Bouraoui was sentenced to a year in prison for criticising President Tebboune online. On 10th August, political activist Samir Ben Larbi and national coordinator of the families of the disappeared Slimane Hamitouche were sentenced to two years in prison for their civil society activities.

Human rights groups have issued urgent calls to release imprisoned activists, especially those who need medical care. Abdallah Benaoum needs heart surgery and has been in pre-trial detention for more than a year now for social media posts condemning the authorities' crackdown on Hirak demonstrations (please see Peaceful Assembly section). 

Foreign funding restrictions

In April 2020, Algeria's parliament passed amendments (article 95) to the Criminal Code which further restrict freedom of association, namely by forbidding foreign funding for activities that impact "the stability and normal functioning of its institutions, national unity, territorial integrity, the fundamental interests of Algeria or public security and order". If receiving funds from foreign sources, one can face a prison sentence of five to seven years, and according to the law, "the penalty shall be doubled when the funds are received within the framework of an association, group, organisation or agreement, regardless of its form or name”.

In its legal analysis of article 95, the MENA Rights Group expressed concern, stating that: 

"...article 95 provides the authorities with excessive power to prosecute activists and human rights defenders receiving foreign funding if they consider that their peaceful advocacy activities undermine the “normal functioning of institutions” or “national unity”."

Peaceful Assembly

Demonstrations without official authorisation are prohibited in Algeria, based on article 98 of the country's penal code, which carries with it a prison sentence of up to one year. The authorities routinely disperse or prevent demonstrations from taking place. All protests have been banned in Algeria since March 2020 in connection with the government's COVID-related restrictions. 

In February 2019, Algerians demonstrated across the country after the incumbent president at the time - Abdelaziz Bouteflika - announced he would run for a fifth term. The mass protests came to be known as the Revolution of Smiles or Hirak Movement. After weeks of protests, Bouteflika voluntarily resigned and called for new elections, which took place in December of that year and brought to power Abdelmadjid Tebboune. Disatisfied with the electoral process and the political system overall, protesters continued to gather on a bi-weekly basis through February 2020, one year after the initial movement started, and the demonstrations have only been suspended to date due to restrictions on movement

The Hirak Movement was met with severe crackdowns from security forces in Algeria, including the use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions. In April 2029, one young protester was reportedly killed by police, beaten so severely he never recovered, while participating in the protests. 

On 26th November 2019, the European Parliament called on the Algerian authorities to release activists, journalists, and other citizens imprisoned for participating in the Hirak demonstrations. And again one year later, the EU Parliament called on the Algerian authorities to address the "deteriorating situation for human rights" in the country.