Algeria arrests prominent journalists, activist before election

Amnesty says arrests of Khaled Drareni, Ihsane El Kadi and Karim Tabbou are evidence of ‘chilling escalation’ in the clampdown on dissent.

Karim Tabbou, one of the people arrested, is a very popular activist with the pro-democracy Hirak movement [File: Ryad Kramdi/AFP]

Authorities in Algeria have arrested two prominent journalists and a well-known opposition figure, just days before the country’s parliamentary election.

Algeria is set to hold its first legislative election on Saturday since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 in the wake of mass protests. The demonstrations against the longtime leader’s re-election bid swiftly transformed into demands for systemic change.

On Friday, Amnesty International said the arrest of journalists Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, as well as of popular activist Karim Tabbou, were evidence of “a chilling escalation” in the clampdown on dissent.

The National Committee for the Liberation of the Detained said Tabbou, a group of lawyers defending jailed activists of the pro-democracy Hirak movement, was arrested on Thursday night at his home in the southwestern suburbs of the capital, Algiers.

Tabbou, a prominent Hirak member, was previously imprisoned from September 2019 to July 2020, and he spent more than a month under judicial supervision, which prohibited him from engaging in any political activity.

On Saturday, Algeria is set to hold its first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power [File: Ryad Kramdi/AFP]

An Algerian court sentenced Tabbou in November to a one-year suspended prison sentence for “inciting violence” and “damaging the image of the military”. A ruling on his appeal is expected on June 19.

The lawyers’ group said El Kadi had been detained for questioning at the Antar police station since Thursday night. He is the director of the online news site Maghreb Emergent and Radio M, which gives voice to opposition members. He is also an activist in the pro-democracy movement.

Algerian Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer accused El Kadi of “divulgating information likely to be detrimental to the national unity”.

El Kadi was placed under judicial supervision on May 18 with orders to present himself at a police station once a week. His passport was confiscated.

Drareni, an independent journalist, was being held in a barracks on the outskirts of Algiers. His only contact with his family was a 1:30am phone call, his lawyer Zoubida Assoul said.

The journalist, who was released on bail only in February after being arrested while covering a mass demonstration in the capital in March last year was expected to face a new trial.

Amnesty condemned the trio’s arrests, saying they were likely made as “retribution” for their links to the Hirak protest movement.

“Instead of rounding up journalists and political opponents in a bid to crush dissent and intimidate members of the Hirak protest movement, Algeria’s authorities should focus on respecting their human rights obligations,” Amna Guellali, the rights group’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

The General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Anthony Bellanger, said  Algerian authorities “must stop the crackdown on media at such a critical moment” for the country.

“We call for the immediate release of all imprisoned media workers and urge the Algerian government to respect the right of journalists to report independently ahead, during and after the legislative elections,” he said in a statement.

Hirak supporters have pledged to boycott the election, which President Abdelmadjid Tebboune called as part of his pledge to tackle corruption and build a “new Algeria”, as they denounce a crackdown on opposition and increased repression of protests.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies