Algerian cartoonist sentenced to three months in jail, with fears of new government crackdown

Algerian cartoonist sentenced to three months in jail, with fears of new government crackdown
3 min read
19 December, 2019
The new government appears to be cracking down in dissent and opposition to the new president, after the famed satirist was arrested and given a nine month suspended sentence.
Algerian cartoonist Benabdelhamid Amine has been sentenced to three months in prison over satirical images he posted on social media as a form of protest over the election of Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

A court in Oran, in northwest Algeria sentenced Amine to one year in prison on 11 December after finding him guilty of insulting the president, "violating territorial national security" and "disseminating publications harmful to national security" according to news reports.

The Djamal City Criminal Court suspended nine months of the sentence, but he will still need to spend three months in prison.

Amine published cartoons on both his personal website and on his social media pages, reported. In one image, Algerian Army Chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah was putting a gold slipper on the foot of Tebboune, the former prime minister who won the election on 12 December.

The cartoon echoes what many Algerians protesting believe - that Tebboune is a member of the old elite, and his alleged closeness with the military makes him a part of the status quo.

"Jailing cartoonist Benabdelhamid Amine for his political satire shows that Algerian authorities have not broken with the country's authoritarian past," said the publication's Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator, Sherif Mansour.

Director of Amnesty International Algeria, Hassina Oussedik, condemned the cartoonist's 26 November arrest.

"No one should face harassment, intimidation or arrest for covering protests or expressing criticism of electoral candidates," said Oussedik.

The latest detention of perceived opponents of the regime could mark a shift in the nationwide protest movement in Algeria.

The "Hirak", which began in February as a move to prevent Abdelaziz Bouteflika from staying another term in office, later became a national, peaceful democratic movement aimed at purging old regime.

"This decision represents a flagrant violation of freedom of expression and is part of the recent wave of arrests in recent weeks," said Cartooning for Peace, a global network of committed cartoonists.

According to CNLD, more than 140 demonstrators, activists and artists - as well as journalists, have been arrested since June in Algeria.

Algeria's new president recently announced his intention to amend the country's constitution during the first term in office in order to "fulfil" the demands of protesters.

"I am committed to amending the constitution so that it will be the cornerstone of building a new republic, no longer granting immunity to the corrupt," he said, according to The New Arab’s Arabic-language service.

"I will amend [the constitution] during the first three months, or perhaps the first few weeks."

President Tebboune intends for the new constitution to fulfil the demands of the people and include decrees that "reduce the powers of the president, protect Algeria from falling into individual rule and create a balance between institutions, ensuring separation of powers".

Algerians are not convinced, and following his election, Tebboune vowed to "extend my hand to the Hirak (protest movement) for a dialogue", appoint young ministers and push for a new constitution.

In response, Algerians once again took to the streets, chanting Tebboune was "illegitimate".

A crackdown on cartoonists may be the first sign that opposition to the new president isn’t being tolerated any longer.

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