Algerian govt. steps up clampdown on dissidents ahead of presidential elections

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Pre-election crackdown in Algeria has intensified as authorities carried out waves of arbitrary arrests, forcible dispersion of peaceful demonstrations and imprisoning dozens of activists in recent weeks.

Amnesty International said most of those targeted are protesting against the coming election.

Presidential elections are scheduled to take place on December 12 but are widely opposed by demonstrators across Algeria, mostly from the Hirak protest movement.

A wave of arrests targeting protesters that began in September has intensified since campaigning for the presidential elections began on November 17.

“Since campaigning for the presidential elections began, Algeria’s authorities have stepped up their assault on freedom of expression and assembly – signalling that they have little tolerance for Algerians calling for a change to the system,” said Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

Arrests began to significantly increase with the start of the election campaigning with at least 300 people swept up in waves of arrests between November 17 and 24, according to human rights lawyers and the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH, Ligue Algerienne de Defense des Droits de l’Homme).

Negative rhetoric against opponents of the presidential elections has also intensified in recent days.

On November 17, at least 37 peaceful protesters opposing the presidential elections were arrested during an election campaign rally held by Ali Benflis, one of the presidential candidates, in Tlemcen, western Algeria. Four protesters were convicted of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and received 18-month prison sentences and another 14 were given two-month suspended prison sentences.

More than 150 people were also arrested in Algiers on November 20 during a night-time protest opposing elections, according to Le Comité National pour la Libération des Détenus (CNLD). Most were later released but eight were charged with “harming national security” and “inciting an unarmed gathering” and remain in pre-trial detention. Another 21 were released but must appear again in court on 6 January, on charges including “inciting an unarmed gathering” “civil disobedience” and “harming national security”.

Halim Feddal, a human rights defender and founder of the Algerian National Association Against Corruption, was arbitrarily arrested on November 17 as he left a peaceful demonstration opposing elections in Chlef. He remains in pre-trial detention.

Other arrests of anti-election campaigners have been carried out in Ouargla, Boumerdes, Annaba and other cities during presidential candidates’ rallies.

Since September onwards, the authorities have also stepped up arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters from the Hirak movement who have held weekly demonstrations each Friday since February 22.

Security forces also forcibly dispersed a gathering of mothers of Hirak detainees in Algiers on November 28.

As well as targeting peaceful protesters, Algerian authorities have also stepped up harassment of journalists – with at least five journalists arrested since November 28 in Algiers. Four were released a few hours after their arrest.

One journalist told Amnesty that their equipment was confiscated and they were threatened with being charged with “offending” public officials unless they agreed to sign the interrogation report. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)

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