Algeria imposes restrictions to try to stop street protests

The interior ministry said all protests would need a permit that specified the names of organisers and a start and finishing time for the demonstrations.
Saturday 01/05/2021
Algerians take part in an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers on May 7, 2021. (AFP)
Algerians take part in an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers on May 7, 2021. (AFP)

ALGIERS – Algeria will bar any protests that do not have prior approval, it said on Sunday, in a move aimed at the weekly mass demonstrations that demand a purge of the ruling elite and far-reaching democratic reforms.

The interior ministry said all protests would need a permit that specified the names of organisers and a start and finishing time for the demonstrations.

“Failure to comply with these procedures will result in violating the law and the constitution, which denies the legitimacy of the march, and it will be necessary to deal with it on this basis,” the ministry said.

Such restrictions, even if permits were given, would mean naming specific individuals as formally responsible for a hitherto leaderless protest movement.

The measures are in line with a clause in a new constitution approved by Algerian voters in November last year, in a referendum that drew only 25% participation, which requires organisers to give advance information before demonstrations.

Some protesters believe the restrictions are aimed at ending all street marches. “They are seeking reasons to justify any decision to ban marches,” said Ahmed Badili, a member of the leaderless protest movement known as Hirak.

The restrictions come ahead of early legislative elections on June 12 that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in December 2019 in a vote boycotted by the protest movement, vowed would be fair and transparent.

Thousands of people have been marching every Friday since February after an hiatus of nearly a year during which protests were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mass protests erupted in February 2019 after then president Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he would run for a fifth term, bringing hundreds of thousands onto the streets.

Bouteflika stepped down in April 2019 but the protests continued as marchers demanded the departure of the entire ruling elite, an end to corruption and for the army to quit politics.

While Tebboune has publicly praised the rallies as a moment of national renewal and offered dialogue with Hirak, the security forces have detained protesters, drawing criticism from rights organisations.

Thousands protested in Algiers last Friday despite a heavy police presence.

Some held pictures of prisoners of conscience — opposition and Hirak activists — demanding their release.

“Repression only strengthens the will to fight and cements the solidarity of those subjected to it,” other signs read.

The CNLD prisoners’ rights group says over 70 people are currently imprisoned in connection to the Hirak or cases related to freedom of expression and that some detainees have begun hunger strikes to protest their conditions.

Amnesty International on Friday called on Algerian authorities to “allow for peaceful protests without resorting to force and other punitive measures unnecessarily”.

“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 Amna Guellali, Amnesty’s regional deputy director.

“The police forces’ heavy-handed response to brave protesters taking part in the Hirak movement exemplifies why people across Algeria are calling for political reform,” she added in a statement. “The use of unlawful force and arbitrary detentions is unacceptable.”