Rights group calls on Algerian govt. to release arbitrarily detained protesters


International rights group calls on Algerian authorities for the immediately and unconditionally release all peaceful protesters who have been detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Amnesty International will also be monitoring the expected protests on Friday and is calling for the authorities to allow people to freely exercise their human rights and not to target peaceful protesters.

At least 76 protesters have been arbitrarily detained since a presidential election in December of last year amid a continuing wave of arrests by the authorities.

Civil society activists, journalists and political leaders are among those now facing a range of charges based on offences in the penal code, including “unarmed gathering”, “harming national security”, “harming the army’s morale” and “offending public officials”.

“The Algerian authorities are deploying the threat of criminal trials against dozens of peaceful protesters, apparently in a bid to intimidate and silence critical voices. The use of trumped-up charges related to national security and the military is particularly outrageous,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Persecuting peaceful protesters is certainly not the response Algerians who have taken to the streets and demanded wide-ranging reforms were waiting for,” he said.

Since February 2019, the total number of prosecutions of peaceful protesters has reached more than 1,400, according to local human rights organizations and lawyers who have been monitoring the situation on the ground.

On February 21, during a protest in Algiers to mark the anniversary of the “Hirak” movement, two peaceful protesters – Yasmine Si Hadj Mohand and Hamid Hamadeche – were arrested and taken into provisional detention. Yasmine Si Hadj Mohand, 34, who lives in France and works as an engineer, has been in custody ever since and has not been allowed to contact her family. She is accused of participating in an “unarmed gathering” and the verdict in her case is expected on March 08.

On February 29, during another march in Algiers, a group of 56 peaceful protesters were arbitrarily arrested. According to one of their lawyers, at least 20 of them are being prosecuted on the charge of “incitement to unarmed gathering”, including eight whose trial is scheduled for 2 April, while the rest have been released without charge.

Amnesty International has been following the trial of several protesters, including political leader Karim Tabbou and the president of the civil society association Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse (Rally for Youth Action, RAJ), Abdelouahab Fersaoui.

Fersaoui was arrested on October 10, 2019 in Algiers and is being held in El Harrach prison. He is facing trial on charges of “incitement to violence” and “harming national security” for a Facebook post he wrote.

Amnesty International has interviewed Raouf Rais, a peaceful protester who was arrested during a march on November 01, 2019 and was detained provisionally for two months in El Harrach prison. He was convicted of “harming national security” for carrying the Amazigh flag and sentenced to a two-month suspended prison sentence. He was consequently released on the day of the verdict.

“We call on the authorities in Algeria to immediately halt their campaign of arbitrary arrests and prosecutions. All those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly must be immediately and unconditionally released and have all charges against them dropped,” said Philip Luther. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)