Algeria’s government has been accused by Amnesty International of suppressing peaceful protests on Wednesday, a day before the trial of four activists from the southern city of Ouargla.
Tahar Belabes, a member of the National Committee for the Defence of the Rights of the Unemployed, and three other activists from the group, have been charged with taking part in “unarmed gatherings” after a dramatic protest earlier this year.
All four men face up to a year in jail for taking part in protests against unemployment in Algeria’s oil capital, Hassi Messaoud.
The Algerian authorities appear to be increasingly resorting to criminal prosecutions as a means of silencing protesters, signaling a worrying slide towards deeper repression.
“Imprisoning Tahar Belabes and his colleagues simply for taking part in peaceful protests would be an outrageous attack on the right to freedom of expression and assembly. Their only ‘crime’ appears to be that they stood up for the rights of the unemployed. They should not even be on trial – let alone facing a possible prison term,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
“The Algerian authorities appear to be increasingly resorting to criminal prosecutions as a means of silencing protesters, signaling a worrying slide towards deeper repression. Rather than jailing peaceful activists the authorities should be responding to their complaints. Increasing repression is not an answer to rising unemployment or the worsening economic situation exacerbated by falling oil prices,” Mughrabi added.
Police arrested seven demonstrators who took part in a protest against high unemployment in Belabes last February.
The young protesters sewed their mouths shut, cut their bodies with knives and threatened to hang themselves outside a government building in Ouargla.
Belabes was dismissed from his job at a subsidiary of a state-run oil company in 2015 in an apparent reprisal for his involvement in unprecedented anti-fracking protests, which took place in the south of the country early last year.
Protests against poverty, unemployment and corruption are frequent in the oil-rich country.