Pro-democracy Hirak protesters launch hunger strike in Algerian prison

Pro-democracy Hirak protesters launch hunger strike in Algerian prison
A group of detained anti-government protesters in Algeria have launched a mass hunger strike in prison.
3 min read
Hirak protesters have maintained regular demonstrations in Algeria [Getty]

Twenty-three people detained after taking part in a protest march in the Algerian capital last week have gone on hunger strike, a prisoners' support group said on Saturday.

The CNLD said they launched their action on Wednesday in El Harrach jail, after being detained on charges of "damage to national unity" and holding an "unarmed gathering", or protest.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune earlier this week warned pro-democracy "Hirak" activists against "non-innocent activities" that "attempt to hinder the democratic process".

The Hirak protest movement was sparked in February 2019 over then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing strongman was forced to step down weeks later, but the Hirak kept up demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of the ruling system.

Since the movement's second anniversary on February 22, thousands have defied a ban on gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic and taken to the streets for weekly protests, which were suspended for almost a year due to the health crisis.

Last week, thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of cities across Algeria demanding an independent judiciary to probe the incarceration of dozens of regime opponents.

In the centre of the capital Algiers, national flags were held aloft by protesters, signifying the Hirak protest movement's opposition to a regime and leaders that they regard as illegitimate. 

One banner read: "I have a dream - democracy, the rule of law, freedom."

Pictures of detained prisoners of conscience featured alongside messages on numerous placards brought to the rally by protesters. 

"We want an independent judiciary. The injustice must stop!" said Mohammed, a 59 year-old retiree.

Another banner read "We are all Judge Merzoug", referring to a magistrate who was suspended from his duties, amid criticism from Algeria's justice ministry over his purported sympathy with the Hirak.

He is one of two judges who face legal action over links to the protest movement. 

Protests also took place in several other cities, including Annaba in the east and Oran in the west, according to images circulating on social media.

Boycott of legislative elections

Meanwhile, Tebboune issued a decree setting June 12 for early legislative elections after dissolving parliament last month, prompting thousands to demonstrate the following day to reject the planned poll.

Last week, Algeria's opposition Socialist Forces Front (FFS) announced it will boycott early legislative elections.

Read also: Algerian government withdraws controversial 'deprivation of nationality' bill

The FFS's national council said it "reaffirms that the conditions for holding the next legislative elections of June 12 have not been met and that the elections do not constitute the solution to the multi-dimensional crisis that the country is experiencing".

"Consequently the FFS cannot participate in this election," it said in a resolution seen by AFP.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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