Algeria's crackdown on journalists, dissidence and freedom of expression

Algeria's crackdown on journalists, dissidence and freedom of expression
Algeria has arrested and charged four bloggers and journalists who were critical of the government in recent months, possibly in relation to an outbreak of civil disobedience across the country.
3 min read
25 January, 2017
An Algerian protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask in Paris, July 2014 [AFP]

A prominent Algerian blogger is the latest person to be arrested as part of a new crackdown on dissidents by the country's authorities.

Merzoug Touati, chief blogger for al-Hogra‎, was arrested on January 18 in his hometown of Bejaia, following an outbreak of civil disobedience in the town.

The police searched Touati's home and seized his computer following his arrest on charges related to his blog's criticisms of Algerian authorities.

Al-Hogra published an interview with an Israeli official on  January 9 which reported that there had been an unofficial Israeli embassy in Algeria prior to 2000, contrary to the government's claims.

A video taken from al-Hogra‎'s Facebook page of students rioting in Bejaia

Touati's arrest is the most recent in a long string of similar arrests, as authorities look to increase control after protests broke out over tax and price increases.

Protesters took to the streets across Algeria from January 2, predominantly in Touati's hometown of Bejaia, in response to a new Finance Bill which heralded tax hikes and welfare cuts in response to cheap oil prices.

Police officers arrested Arezki Merouane, a blogger from Burj Bou Aririj in a similar manner to Touati on January 7, on charges of incitement and insulting a statutory body.

Merouane was one of the main bloggers for the Algerian Organization Against Sycophants, which wrote in criticism of the government.

Translation: #Freedom_to_Merouane A blogger from the Algerian Organization Against Sycophants was arrested on Wednesday #the_blogger_is_not_a_criminal

Writing under the hashtag #the_blogger_is_not_a_criminal, Merouane's friends and supporters called on the authorities to release him.

"We hope we never see any citizens rot in prison – especially for matters related to the freedom of expression," tweeted one anonymous supporter.

Other examples include a British-Algerian journalist who died in a prison hospital on December 11, 2016. Tamalt was on a hunger strike for three months against his imprisonment, which led to three months in coma.

Tamalt, 42, was charged with "defaming a public authority" after he published a poem to Facebook insulting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

A court in Algiers sentenced him to two years in prison on July 11, 2016 and fined him 200,000 dinars ($1,800).

"No speech is safe in Algeria if a poem on Facebook can get you two years in prison," said Sarah Leah Whitson, a director at Human Rights Watch. 

The US human rights organisation also protested against the arrest of freelance journalist, Hassan Bouras, who was sentenced to one year in prison on November 28, 2016 for his documentary on police violence.

Bouras was charged with "insulting a judge or a public officer, insulting and defaming state institutions" and "unlawfully practicing a profession regulated by the law".