Tebboune’s government is weakening human rights in Algeria
In Algeria, the old guard is back. And the repressive measures have resumed. As the popular adage goes “drive away the natural, it comes back at a gallop.”
Despite President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s claims that his government is open to “an inclusive dialogue,” with social and political partners, to appease mounting opposition and resentment, the authorities’ crackdown on dissent is alarming.
Human rights activists, academics, journalists, and lawyers are being jailed in larger numbers while scores of others have gone into exile.
''All the cosmetic reforms carried out so far have had only one objective: to consolidate the status quo. And President Tebboune’s promise of a “new Algeria” has been shattered by the systemic corruption, mismanagement, and what the Algerian plebeian class calls Hogra - that government attitude that tolerates and breeds violence against the masses.''
A very illustrative example is the dissolution of a major human rights group - the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), and the incarceration of two prominent local journalists - Al-Kadi Ihsane and Saad Bouakba. Their crime of lese-majesty is their challenge of Tebboune’s anti-corruption drives.
This recent persecution of human rights activists and organisations shows how the authoritarian Algerian regime is trying to eradicate the remaining core behind the Hirak - the large leaderless pro-democracy protest movement launched in 2019.
As a matter of fact, the Hirak managed to mobilize thousands of people in 2019 and 2020 in favour of a democratic overhaul of the political system and was a key factor in the ousting of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
However, Algeria’s military, which is in command ever since the country got its independence from France in 1962, rejected the protestors’ legitimate demands.
According to national rights groups, around 300 people are in custody for their participation in peaceful protest and activism. Some have already served several months in jail without due trial.
The latest development is the shutting down, under dubious circumstances, of the LADDH. Created in 1985, the League survived Algeria’s political convulsions, including the 1990s Civil War which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people.
According to Said Salhi, the LADDH vice-president who is now a political refugee in Belgium, this episode is an indicator of the regime's attempts to eradicate the remaining core of the Hirak, and crush in the nub any potential resistance.
And to preserve some semblance of legality, authorities have increasingly used bogus terrorism charges to indict protesters, human rights advocates, and vocal academics.
It is important to note that the Algerian regime persists in its hunt for dissidents. The subjugation of the Algerian opposition, especially those segments that were close to the Hirak, preceded the dissolution of the LADDH. And this leaden shroud, that is crashing down on the opposition, has also affected many pro-Hirak organizations such as the youth movement Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse (RAJ) whose leader, Abdelwahab Fersaoui, has sought political asylum in Europe.
Recently, Algerian authorities arrested prominent independent journalist El-Kadi Ihsane and shut down Radio M, that he established and which was viewed as the last media outlet for free speech in the country.
Ihsane's latest arrest is linked to an editorial he authored in January wondering whether the military top brass and the security apparatus would back current president Abdelmadjid Tebboune for a second term in 2024. But such a line of reasoning is still taboo among the powers that be.
General Gaid Salah, the former army chief of staff, who according to Wikileaks was “perhaps the most corrupt official in the military apparatus,” and the man who instigated the current leadership, kicked the bucket in 2019. Nevertheless, the military top brass which he sidelined or jailed is now in control. And many observers believe that this “deep state’’ is reluctant to see Tebboune running for a second term.
The latest victim of this witch hunt is the renowned Arabophone journalist Saad Bouakba. The 77-was arrested earlier this month, less than 48 hours after the publication of his opinion piece in Al Madar news site.
It is obvious that the charges against Bouakba are closely related to his job as a journalist despite the arrest being framed around accusations of press offence.
Not to mention, Article 54 of the Algerian Constitution makes it crystal clear that: “a press offence cannot be punished by a custodial sentence.” But everybody knows that the Algerian Constitution is not even worth the paper it is written on. Those who drafted it are always the first to violate it.
In an effort to suppress any nonconforming narrative or any defiant voices, the regime has also no qualms in targeting members of the Algerian diaspora. Several dual nationals, such as Algerian-Canadians, were left in a state of limbo for months and were forbidden from leaving the country.
This shows how nobody is immune from this large-scale repression that has engulfed the country. What the regime does not seem to see, however, is the considerable resentment among the population.
The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) condemned the Algerian regime's "shameful revenge" on Amira Bouraoui's family.https://t.co/co9PWEaCAP— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) February 13, 2023
All the cosmetic reforms carried out so far have had only one objective: to consolidate the status quo. And President Tebboune’s promise of a “new Algeria” has been shattered by the systemic corruption, mismanagement, and what the Algerian plebeian class calls Hogra - that government attitude that tolerates and breeds violence against the masses.
And now that around 300 prisoners of conscience are locked up, the regime has resorted to a new stratagem. Those pro-democracy activists who want to reclaim their freedom should give up politics. This is exactly what the opposition figure Rachid Nekkaz did last January. He was released after he vowed to quit politics.
Several international human rights organisations have vocalised their disapproval to the Algerian government’s blackmailing. The League of Human Rights, the World Organization against Torture, and the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, have all noted that the situation for human rights defenders in Algeria is deteriorating.
Will the Algerian government remedy this sordid situation and put an end to the ceaseless harassment of human rights activists, academics, journalists, and opposition leaders?
It remains to be seen whether the authorities will live up to their international obligations to respect and protect human rights.
Dr. Abdelkader Cheref is an Algerian academic and a freelance journalist based in the US. As a former Fulbright scholar, he holds a PhD from the University of Exeter, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. His research interests are primarily politics in the MENA region, democratisation, Islam/Islamism, and political violence with a special focus on the Maghreb.
Follow him on Twitter @Abdel_Cheref
Have questions or comments? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.