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mercredi 16 avril 2014

Suffocating Civil Society in Algeria

Not only is the human rights situation in Algeria no better than in 2013, or preceding years, it is in fact getting worse, especially regarding anything to do with civil liberties.
Even if, under pressure from the public demonstrations organised every Saturday in early 20l1, the authorities have taken the formal step of ending the state of emergency, the security forces are still using the same old repressive tactics against peaceful demonstrators. What this clearly shows is that simply changing or abolishing a law has simply no effect on the authoritarian nature of the state.
From 2010 right up to today there have been weekly, even daily, protests by people from every walk of life: the unemployed, doctors, university teachers, lawyers, students - even local policemen. These peaceful assemblies have been violently broken up by the forces of law and order and have been followed by arrests and prosecutions for “illegal assembly”, even though the law in question specifies that this should only happen when the police, under the orders of the Prefect of Police, are required to take action because of a threat to public order.
In this suffocating climate where there is no space for peaceful freedom of expression by civil society, human rights defenders receive brutal treatment because they represent a double danger to the authorities - in the first instance by providing a platform for the protesters and equally by broadcasting these protests internationally. For that reason activists like Abdelkader Kherba, Yacine Zaid, Fekhar Kamel, Eddine and many others have been arrested, jailed and sentenced either to a fixed prison term or imprisonment followed by probation. During the election campaign we have documented several incidents which testify to the unchanging and authoritarian nature of the regime. Just to give one example of this repressive official attitude, restrictions have been placed on anyone who, using their right to freedom of expression, has called for a boycott of the elections and this is specifically intended to prevent them explaining publicly the reasons behind their call for a boycott. This restriction has been extended to social movements, which have been commenting publicly on the campaigns in the run up to the elections, particularly if this discussion takes place in fora outside the control of the state.
These restrictions have also been applied to people monitoring the protests. On 1 March several journalists and activists were arrested, including Mr Yacine Zaid and the president of our organisation, Mr Salah Dabouz. Another example of this official shut down of the space for public discussion is the denial of visas to journalists who want to report on the situation of those sections of civil society and the political class who are critical of the way in which the elections are being run.
It was for all these reasons that LADDH, in association with the trade union SNAPAP, organised an information day to call on the authorities to change the whole organisational structure of the police. Specifically the police should move away from the current military model, whereby the head of the police is an army general, to a civilian model, which would allow members of this new force to join trade unions and to comment on directives and orders which they see as anti-constitutional.
We are launching an appeal to all those groups and individuals who have publicly spoken out about the political future of the country, to come together so that we can change the political system and work together to create a more democratic system. We all need to come together so that we can reach agreement on what we see as the common minimum requirements for change.
This blog was written by Mr Salah Debouz, president of LADDH, the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights.


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