Hirak supporters demonstrate in Algeria, reject elections

Marches also took place in Algiers, Annaba, Constantine, Kabylie, Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou.
Saturday 01/05/2021
Algerians shout slogans during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers on April 30, 2021. (AFP)
Algerians shout slogans during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers on April 30, 2021. (AFP)

ALGIERS--Thousands of Algerians marched through the capital Friday denouncing what they said were sweeping arrests of members of the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement.

“Police everywhere, justice nowhere”, read one sign carried by the protesters.

Local media websites and activists on social networks said police violently broke up the demonstration, with reports of arrests and violence in the capital.

The “peaceful march (was) violently dispersed”, Said Salhi, head of the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH), said on Twitter.

“Escalation of police violence against journalists covering the Friday marches in Algeria,” media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) tweeted.

Marches also took place in other parts of the country, including Annaba, Constantine, Kabylie, Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou.

Salhi said authorities detained protesters at several demonstrations.

The march in Algiers was seen as a test of the Hirak’s popularity, after police stopped a student march in the capital on Tuesday, arresting around 20 people.

When the demonstrators were released, they had to sign a document pledging to refrain from participating in weekly Hirak marches or arrest, said Salhi.

“It is intimidation and a way of exerting pressure to weaken the Hirak,” he said.

The National Committee for the Liberation of Prisoners (CNLD) estimates around 70 people are in prison over their links with the Hirak or other peaceful opposition political activity.

Algerian demonstrators express opposition to next elections, in the capital Algiers on April 30, 2021. AFP
Algerian demonstrators express opposition to next elections, in the capital Algiers on April 30, 2021. (AFP)

Despite high temperatures and people fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, large crowds marched through Algiers for “Friday 115,” the number of weeks since the Hirak protesters began on February 22, 2019.

“Release our children so that they fast with us during this Ramadan,” chanted the protesters.

The demonstrators also repeated their opposition to the country’s forthcoming legislative elections in June.

The head of the electoral authority (ANIE), Mohamed Charfi, said this week that 1,730 lists — 818 party lists and 912 “independent lists” — had registered for the polls.

But he said only 19 parties out of the 39 that had submitted their documents “meet the legal requirements”.

The Hirak protest movement was sparked over president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing ruler was forced to step down weeks later, but the Hirak has continued its demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.

On Thursday, Algeria released on probation Karim Tabbou, a leading opposition activist, after his arrest the day before.

Tabbou, who was handed a one-year suspended sentence last year for “undermining state security”, was charged on eight counts, including “slander”, after he allegedly heckled an official during a funeral.

Tabbou and other government opponents have pledged to boycott the upcoming polls.