Algeria: One year after the Hirak, alarming situation of freedom of expression and right to assembly

Algeria: One year after the Hirak, alarming situation of freedom of expression and right to assembly - Civic Space

On the first anniversary of the Algerian Hirak, ARTICLE 19 has issued a warning about the state of freedom of expression and the right to assembly in Algeria.

Director of ARTICLE 19 Middle East and North Africa, Saloua Ghazouani Oueslati said:

“The Algerian authorities continue to violate rights and liberties that are guaranteed in the constitution, as well as the international commitments that Algeria has ratified. These practices call into question the legitimacy of the current government, who are continuing the old practices of the previous dictatorial regime.

“The authorities must open up to dialogues with all forms of civil society to enable Algeria to revise its constitution for a better guarantee of rights and freedoms, and to establish the rule of law.

“They must also guarantee the exercise of these fundamental rights in practice as well as in theory. The Algerian people are calling for the establishment of a true democracy and the authorities must respond to their demands.”

The Hirak began on February 22, 2019, after former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would run for president for a fifth time. Algerians took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to call for him to withdraw his bid. A few weeks later, Bouteflika said he would step down but Algerians have continued to protest and demand the full guarantee of their rights and liberties, as well as the establishment of an efficient rule of law.

In December 2019, a new president, Abdelmajid Tebboune was elected, although the elections were seen as controversial with many Algerians rejecting the result. Today, the Algerian people are still on the streets every Tuesday and Friday, continuing the struggle for better rights and liberties, and calling for an end to government practices that continue to violate political and civil rights and freedoms.

Attacks on freedom of expression

The ongoing attacks on freedom of expression include:

The prosecution of Algerian citizens for posts on social media

Malik Riyahi, was fined 700,000 Algerian dinars (≈ 5400 €) by the court of Oran on Monday, February 17 2020. This included 500,000 Algerian Dinars (≈ 3800 €) in damages to the police police because he published photos of the police crackdown on marching students and called them “Hegarine حقارين” (i.e. abusing power and denying dignity in a disdainful way).

The arrest of activists, students and intellectuals

  • Abdelouahab Fersaoui, President of the Association Rassemblement Action Jeunesse (RAJ), was arrested on October 10 2019 by security agents at a sit-in in front of the Sidi M’Hamed in Algiers and placed in pre-trial detention where he remains today. Members from civil society such as The League for Human Rights are calling for a trial to be scheduled and for his release.
  • Author Anouar Rahmani was arrested for critical and satirical posts on Facebook about the former president and the former army chief.
  • On February 18, 2020, which is National Martyrs Day, security agents closed a number of main streets in Algiers, and arrested a number of protesting students and citizens, before releasing them after interrogation. To many Algerians, this behavior was seen as a violation of the memory of the Algerian martyrs.

Attacks on the right to assembly

Activists, Hirak collectives and associations from all the wilayas (regions) of Algeria set up a national forum where they will agree a manifesto on the prerequisites for democratic transition. The authorities refused to authorise a meeting scheduled for February 20 at the El Biar hotel, forcing the forum to change venue and violating the forum’s right to assembly.