Algeria to ban unauthorised protests

Critics say new measure aimed at suppressing the Hirak protest movement ahead of parliamentary polls in June.

Mass protests erupted in February 2019 after then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he would run for a fifth term, bringing hundreds of thousands onto the streets [File: Ryad Kramdi/AFP]

Algeria will ban unauthorised demonstrations, the country’s interior ministry has announced, a move that observers say is aimed at bringing to an end a years-long protest movement seeking democratic reforms.

The announcement came on Sunday as protests by the Hirak movement gained momentum in recent weeks after a months-long hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of demonstrators began taking to the street in February 2019 to protest against former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fifth term in office.

Those rallies culminated weeks later in the ailing octogenarian stepping down.

The interior ministry said all protests, many of which have now transformed into wider calls for systemic change, would need a permit that specified the names of organisers and a start and finishing time for the demonstrations.

“Failure to comply with these procedures will result in violating the law and the constitution, which denies the legitimacy of the march, and it will be necessary to deal with it on this basis,” the ministry said.

Such restrictions, even if permits were given, would mean naming specific individuals as formally responsible for a hitherto leaderless protest movement.

The measures are in line with a clause in a new constitution approved by Algerian voters in November last year, in a referendum that drew only 25 percent participation, that requires organisers to give advance information before demonstrations.

Some protesters believe the restrictions are aimed at ending all street marches.

“They are seeking reasons to justify any decision to ban marches,” Ahmed Badili, a member of Hirak, told Reuters news agency.

The restrictions come ahead of early legislative elections on June 12 that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in December 2019 in a vote boycotted by the protest movement, promised would be fair and transparent.

While Tebboune has publicly praised the rallies as a moment of national renewal and offered dialogue with the movement, security forces have detained protesters, drawing criticism from rights organisations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies