UN concerned about ban on Hirak demonstrations in Algeria, arrest and use of excessive force against protestors
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Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice
Geneva, August 18 2021
United Nations experts have expressed grave concern about allegations of arrests, bans on demonstrations, and excessive use of force by the Algerian authorities against peaceful protestors of the Hirak movement.
Largest number of arrests in one day:
In a memorandum sent to Algeria on August 17, 2021, the experts explained that since February 2021, thousands of people have continued to demonstrate within the peaceful Hirak movement.
The experts added that they had received reports of the arrest of a large number of protesters, politicians, journalists and those associated with the movement, in real or perceived ways, noting that on May 14, 2021, it was reported that more than 1,000 peaceful protesters were arrested in 23 states; Including 500 in Algiers, 120 in Setif, 80 in Skikda, 80 in Annaba, and 30 in Oran.
In their note, the experts pointed out that this will be the largest number of arrests carried out in one day since the protests resumed on February 22, 2021, explaining that the detainees included members of political parties, journalists and demonstrators. Access to the Internet on mobile phones was blocked during various demonstrations in several provinces, which prevented media and press coverage of the demonstrations.
Experts stated that the total number of arrests since the last contact with the Algerian government on April 21, 2021, reached 3,700 demonstrators, while the demonstrations were peaceful. In addition, there were reportedly only 93 arrest warrants in May and 26 in June, till the time of this report.
Referral to trial and use of force:
The UN memo stated that the vast majority of the protesters were released on the same day following their arrest, but 200 people are believed to remain in detention for supporting or participating in the protests, and have since appeared before a court of law on May 15, 2021.
The experts noted that the protesters have been convicted by the Algiers courts on charges of: attack on national unity, spreading false information, attack on the national interest, weakening the morale of the army and direct provocation of an unarmed gathering, insulting public officials, insulting the President of the Republic, and attacking Islam.
The experts expressed their concerns about these allegations, and the use of excessive force, including the use of tear gas and batons, by security forces against Hirak protesters, who appear to be directly related to the exercise of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
The experts were also worried that mass arrests of protesters may continue and multiply in the run-up to the legislative elections on June 12, 2021, adding that for the issues raised in this memorandum, protesters were arrested while demonstrating peacefully. In this sense, the use of force appears to contravene the provisions of international law that protect those who exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly as well as those who monitor demonstrations.
International demands from Algeria:
The experts called on the Algerian authorities to provide information on the factual and legal bases for the arrest and detention of demonstrators during the protests, and explain how these reasons comply with international human rights norms and standards, as well as provide information on the legal and practical bases for the use of force, including tear gas and batons during demonstrations, and explaining the extent to which this use of force was necessary, proportionate and in accordance with international human rights standards.
The experts also called on Algeria to explain the legal basis for the restrictions on internet access, explaining how this is consistent with its obligations under international human rights law, while outlining the measures that have been taken to ensure that protesters, including human rights defenders, can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, without fear of being threatened or detained.
Algeria’s response to the UN memorandum:
The Algerian authorities responded to the memorandum by affirming that the cases mentioned in it are at the stage of the preliminary allegations, noting that it is necessary for the demonstrators to obtain an official permit in accordance with the provisions of Algerian law, which the demonstrators allegedly did not do.