As the controversial presidential election, scheduled for Dec. 12, draws nearer, the Algerian authorities have increased their oppression against the protest movement, which opposes holding the presidential elections, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters were arrested and imprisoned for “compromising the integrity of the territory,” “distributing publications harmful to the national interest” or “calling for an unauthorized gathering”, says HRW in a press release issued lately.
“The crackdown on protesters casts a long shadow on whether the Algerian authorities are prepared to accept everyone’s basic rights to speak out,” affirms Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW director for MENA region.
“No one should be arrested simply for waving a flag or expressing their opposition to an election”, she underlines.
The Hirak began with massive street demonstrations in February to oppose President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plan to seek a fifth term. After successfully pressuring him to resign, large numbers of protesters continued to take to the streets to demand the departure of the entire ruling elite and an inclusive transition toward genuinely democratic elections.
More than 120 protesters have been arrested since June for their role in the Hirak movement. They have either been sentenced and sent to prison or are in pretrial detention, according to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees, created on August 26 by activists and lawyers to defend arrested protesters.
For its part, Amnesty International has condemned the escalation by the Algerian authorities and their pre-election crackdown on protests carrying out waves of arbitrary arrests, forcibly dispersing peaceful demonstrations against presidential elections and prosecuting and imprisoning dozens of peaceful activists.
“Since campaigning for the presidential elections began, Algeria’s authorities have stepped up their assault on freedom of expression and assembly- signaling that they have little tolerance for Algerians calling for a change to the system,” stresses Heba Morayef, director for MENA region at Amnesty International.
“Millions of Algerians have shown through their sustained weekly protests over the past 10 months that they believe in peaceful protest as a collective way to call for change. Instead of attacking peaceful protesters – including those opposing the presidential elections – Algeria’s authorities should be upholding the rights of Algerians to demonstrate peacefully and express themselves freely”, she says.
Arrests increased significantly with the election campaigning with at least 300 people swept up in waves of arrests, according to human rights lawyers and the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH/ Ligue Algérienne de Defense des Droits de l’Homme).
Negative rhetoric against opponents of the presidential elections has also intensified.