Algerian satirical meme creator arrested for criticising president in coronavirus crackdown

Algerian satirical meme creator arrested for criticising president in coronavirus crackdown
A well-known creator of a meme page called Walid Kechida is the latest victim of Algeria's crackdown on free speech after he was arrested for criticising the president.
3 min read
29 April, 2020
Hirak protests have stopped due to coronavirus lockdown measures [Getty]

An Algerian activist, who created a well-known memes page, has been arrested for criticising the president, in a move that shows the deepening attack on freedom of speech in the North African country during the coronavirus pandemic.

Walid Kechida, the creator of the Facebook page "Hirak Memes", was arrested in the city of Sétif for posting satirical cartoons on the social networking website.

He has been accused of contempt and offense to President Abdelmajdid Tebboune, who took the reigns of power from ailing former head of state Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose allies are facing corruption charges.

Walid was arrested and indicted for "contempt and offense to the President of the Republic" and "attack on the divine entity".

His lawyer, Moumen Chadi told Liberte Algerie that "the appearance of Walid Kachida, before the judge, is not in accordance with the instructions of the Minister of Justice concerning the suspension of legal proceedings".

An Algerian cartoonist who goes by the name Nime made a sketch about the activist and titled it "Solidarite Walid Kechida".

Nime had also been on the receiving end of Tebboune's ire and was released on 2 January after serving a one month sentence in Oran prison for publishing cartoons critical of the establishment.

This isn't the first time Algeria has cracked down opposing voices.

Instagram Post

Amnesty International is appealing to the Algerian government after a key opposition political leader, Karim Tabbou, was handed a one-year sentence and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars ($450) for trumped up charges related to "incitement to violence" and "harming national unity". This was in relation to his speech in videos published on his political party’s Facebook page, where he peacefully criticised the role of the army in politics.

Responding to the court’s decision, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director Heba Morayef, said that the arrest sent a chilling message to Algeria's activist movement.

"Today's court decision sends a deliberate and frightening message to demonstrators, including political and other civil society activists, that anyone who dares to oppose or criticise the government will be punished."

"Karim should never have been charged in the first place simply for expressing peaceful political views and the authorities must immediately and unconditionally release him."

The trial of activist Karim Tabbou has been postponed to 1 June.

Algeria targets online media during Covid-19 pandemic

Algerian authorities have blocked online news website that covered the anti-government "Hirak" protest movement, stirring condemnation Monday from media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

RSF also voiced concern that a draft law on "fake news" could be used as another channel to "muzzle the press".

The draft legislation aims to "criminalise... fake news" which authorities say could undermine national security.

"Algeria is the country recording the largest numbers of deaths related to the coronavirus in Africa but authorities prefer to hound the free press," said the RSF director for North Africa, Souhaieb Khayati.

Algerian authorities earlier this month shut down online media sites Maghreb Emergent and Radio M.

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