Algerian police are blocking democracy demonstrations and detaining journalists


Algerian police prevented a demonstration for democracy in the capital Algiers on Friday and detained several people, including journalists, including an AFP photographer, AFP correspondents said.

Protesters were preparing to participate in the weekly Hirak movement protest when they were ousted and taken into custody by police in the city center, an AFP journalist and other witnesses said.

AFP photographer Ryad Kramdi was detained in the Bab El Oued working-class neighborhood for an identity check and taken to a police station.

He was released in the evening after eight hours in custody.

“We were treated well, but it was very stressful,” said Kramdi after his release.

About ten other journalists and photographers were also detained, including Khaled Drareni, correspondent for the French-speaking TV5 Monde and press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the CNLD prisoners rights group said.

Some of the detainees were released later in the day, including Drareni, according to online media.

Drareni, also the founder of the online news site Casbah Tribune, became a symbol of the struggle for freedom of the press in Algeria after being imprisoned for nearly a year.

“Several journalists were detained and banned from reporting the 117th Hirak protest on Friday, while others were assaulted by security forces,” RSF tweeted.

A video journalist who works for Reuters is also said to be among those arrested.

Sick autocrat

Several dozen protesters managed to hold a protest chanting “A civil, not military, state”.

Marches continued in other Algerian cities, including Oran, and in Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou in the northern region of Kabylia.

The CNLD reported that countless people had been detained across the country, from Hirak activists to opposition members, including Mohcine Belabbas, head of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD).

The Interior Ministry said this week that the Hirak protest organizers should notify authorities in advance of protests, a move that comes amid mounting pressure from the government on the movement as the elections get closer.

“Rally organizers must disclose to the relevant authorities the names of the organizers of the march, start and end times, route and slogans,” the ministry said.

Failure to abide by these rules will make the march illegal and will lead to punishment, it added.

The largely leaderless and politically unstructured Hirak movement was launched in 2019 after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing autocrat was forced to resign weeks later, but the Hirak continued his demonstrations demanding a major overhaul of the ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.

Marches were suspended for about a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but protesters have returned to the streets since February as the movement gets back on track.

The Hirak has rejected early parliamentary elections scheduled for June 12, and human rights groups have warned of increasing repression ahead of the polls.

The CNLD says there are currently more than 70 people in prison in connection with the Hirak movement or matters related to freedom of expression.

The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights in a statement on Friday called on the Algerian authorities to respect human rights, “to end repression and to release all prisoners of conscience and journalists”.