Algeria arrests prominent journalists, activist before elections | News in the Middle East

Amnesty says the arrests of Khaled Drareni, Ihsane El Kadi and Karim Tabbou are evidence of a “tremendous escalation” in the fight against dissidents.

Authorities in Algeria have arrested two prominent journalists and a famous opposition figure, just days before the country’s parliamentary elections.

Algeria will hold its first legislative elections on Saturday since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced out of office in 2019 following mass demonstrations. Demonstrations against the long-running re-election offer quickly turned into demands for systemic change.

On Friday, Amnesty International said the arrests of journalists Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, as well as popular activist Karim Tabbou, were evidence of “a tremendous escalation” in the fight against dissidents.

The National Committee for the Release of Detainees said Tabbou, a group of lawyers defending incarcerated activists of the pro-democracy Hirak movement, was arrested Thursday night at his home on the southwestern outskirts of the capital, Algiers.

Tabbou, a senior member of Hirak, was in custody from September 2019 to July 2020, and spent more than a month under judicial supervision, which prohibits him from participating in any political activity.

On Saturday, Algeria will hold its first legislative elections since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced out of 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 army.” A decision on his appeal is scheduled for June 19.

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

Algerian Communications Minister Ammar Belhimer has accused El Kadi of “disclosing information that could be harmful to national unity.”

El Kadi was placed in judicial custody on May 18 with orders to appear 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 phone call at 1:30 a.m., said his lawyer Zoubida Assoul.

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 scheduled 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 surrounding journalists and political opponents in an attempt to crush dissidents and intimidate members of the Hirak protest movement, Algerian authorities must focus on respecting their human rights obligations.” , Amna Guellali, deputy director of the rights group for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

Hirak’s supporters have vowed to boycott the election, which President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has called as part of his commitment to tackling corruption and building a “new Algeria”, while denouncing opposition repression and repression. increased protests.

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