Leading Algerian protest figure sentenced to year in prison

Leading Algerian protest figure sentenced to year in prison
Dozens of protesters continue to be held in Algeria's jails despite the resignation of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year.
2 min read
24 March, 2020
Dozens of pro-democracy protesters have been jailed in Algeria [AFP]
An Algerian appeals court on Tuesday sentenced a key figure in the country's pro-democracy protest movement to a year in prison, a lawyer and a rights group said.

Karim Tabbou has played a leading role in the mass protests that have rocked the North African country for more than a year.

On March 11, he was handed six months in prison and an additional six-month suspended sentence for "undermining national unity".

The Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) said at the time he would be released on March 26 for time served since he was detained in September.

But on Tuesday morning, his lawyers were summoned to an unscheduled court hearing.

"The judge didn't want to listen, and withdrew to deliberate," defence lawyer Amine Sidhom told AFP.

"When he got out, he announced a sentence of a year in prison."

Said Salhi, vice-president of LADDH, told AFP he was "shocked".

"We are stunned by what is happening, not only to Karim Tabbou but to the Algerian justice system. It's beyond comprehension," he said.

LADDH confirmed the one-year sentence for Tabbou, whose portrait is often held aloft at protests.

Vast demonstrations broke out in Algeria in February last year after then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced a bid for a fifth term after 20 years in power.

He stepped down in April after losing the support of the army, but protesters have continued to hold weekly mass rallies demanding a sweeping overhaul of the ruling elite.

Rights groups say several dozen people connected with the protest movement remain in detention, though the exact number is difficult to establish due to rearrests.

"The Algerian authorities are deploying the threat of criminal trials against dozens of peaceful protesters, apparently in a bid to intimidate and silence critical voices. The use of trumped-up charges related to national security and the military is particularly outrageous," Phillip Luther, Amnesty International's Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement earlier this month.

"Persecuting peaceful protesters is certainly not the response Algerians who have taken to the streets and demanded wide-ranging reforms were waiting for."

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune last week banned rallies and marches in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The North African country has reported 264 cases of the COVID-19 illness, including 19 fatalities.

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