Third Algerian pro-democracy figure detained in a week, with two protesters killed by police

Third Algerian pro-democracy figure detained in a week, with two protesters killed by police
Algeria’s pro-democracy figures complain military rulers have created a virtual 'state of emergency' after a string of activist arrests, while two protesters were killed in clashes with security forces.
3 min read
19 September, 2019
Security forces surround protesters demonstrating for the 30th consecutive Friday [Getty]

Tensions are rising in Algeria following the arrest of a leading figure in a protest movement that have led weekly demonstrations against the military over the past seven months.

An Algerian court on Thursday ordered the pre-trial detention of former state TV journalist and university professor Fodil Boumala, on of his lawyers confirmed.

Boumala was arrested on Wednesday evening in front of his home in an eastern suburb of the capital, his lawyer Abdelghani Badi said on Facebook.

Boumala was detained pending trial on accusations of "undermining national unity" after a hearing with an investigative judge at an Algiers court, his lawyer added.

He is the third protest movement figure to be detained on the same charge within a week, following Karim Tabou a week ago and Samir Benlarbi on Tuesday.

Boumala is a prominent political activist who has spoken out against military rule and campaigned for democracy.

The Civic Forum for Change, a coalition of civil society organisations, condemned the arrests, calling them "arbitrary", adding they "do not boost citizens' confidence in the electoral process nor provide a way out of the current crisis".

The arrests come as the army toughens its line on the demonstrations that have regularly thronged the streets of Algiers and other areas since late February, continuing despite the April resignation of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power.

Fodil Boumala has been a prominent and outspoken figure
during the protests [Facebook]

Opposition conference coordinator Abdelaziz Rehabi criticised the arrests in a Facebook post, saying Algeria's leaders were expected to "open up the media and political space so people could express their constitutional rights", which in turn would encourage Algerians to participate in the presidential election. 

Rehabi slammed the that the arrests of activists, calling them "unacceptable", adding that the resulting political climate "makes us feel like we’re in a state of emergency".

On Wednesday, the military ordered police to block protesters from outside the capital entering Algiers, days after a presidential election was announced for December despite pushback from demonstrators. 

Algerians are expected to take to the streets again on Friday to protest the presidential election.

Army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah has led the push for polls by the end of the year.

But protesters have demanded political reforms and the removal of the former president's loyalists - including Gaid Salah himself - before any legitimate vote can be held.

Pro-democracy protesters believe an early poll led by Salah will favour the military establishment that previously presided over the north African country.

The police have made multiple arrests in Algiers before the start of Friday rallies in recent weeks.

Officially, demonstrations had been banned in Algiers since 2001, but the prohibition had been ignored since the demonstrations started in February against the ailing Bouteflika's bid for a fifth presidential term. 

According to the coordinator of the National Committee for the Release of Prisoners, 22 protestors arrested last Friday were placed in pre-trial detention on Sunday.

Deadly clashes in Relizane

In Relizane, 300 kilometres (190 miles) west of Algiers, two people were killed in overnight clashes between security forces and protesters angered by the death of a teenager in an accident involving a police car, the prosecution said Thursday.

The fighting broke out as the demonstrators tried to storm the town's police station and find the police officer who had been driving the car when it hit the 15-year-old's motorbike, killing him.

Police opened fire on protesters using live ammunition, as well as tear gas.

Two people wounded during the clashes later died, according to the prosecution, however reports on social media put the death toll higher, at four people.

Agencies contributed to this report.