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Algeria rights crackdown slammed ahead of election

© TV footage

Text by Thomas HUBERT

Latest update : 2014-04-15

Criticism of Algeria’s human rights and freedom of expression record is mounting days before the presidential election in which Abdelaziz Bouteflika is widely expected to win a fourth term in office.

In a report published on Monday April 14, Amnesty International stated that “the Algerian authorities regularly ban and forcibly disperse peaceful protests and have imposed severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.”

The human rights group cites numerous examples of restrictions to civil liberties, including a 2012 law allowing the government to ban organizations seen to threaten principles as vague as “national constants and values” or “morality”.

Amnesty International slammed the three-year ban on public protests in the capital Algiers, which has been forcibly enforced against demonstrators in the run up to this Thursday’s presidential election. Human Rights Watch also criticized the crackdown on peaceful protests last month, underlining that it had specifically targeted members of the “Barakat” (“Enough”) movement who opposed a fourth term for Bouteflika.

Amnesty International “ignoring Algeria’s progress”

“Amnesty International is focusing on the right to hold public gatherings in Algiers. But they have been banned since 2001 for security reasons,” Madjid Bekkouche, a spokesman for the Bouteflika election team, told FRANCE 24. He added the incumbent’s campaign “rejects Amnesty International’s report categorically because they pretend to ignore the progress achieved in Algeria in the past 15 years.”

The bulk of recent criticism has to do with press freedom, with Amnesty International highlighting the closure of the private Al-Atlas TV channel after a raid by security forces on March 12.

“Attacking a private television station simply because it dared to broadcast a different view is a reprehensible attack on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International researcher Nicola Duckworth said in a statement.

“Al-Atlas TV had difficulties paying its transmission fees and its license was not in order,” Bekkouche replied.
The human rights group gave other examples, including foreign journalists being denied visas to cover the presidential campaign and the wife of a journalist who had covered opposition protests being threatened at gunpoint and scalded with hot water by “three individuals in plain clothes believed to be members of the security forces”.

No access for UN human rights experts

Amnesty International regretted that Algeria had not granted access to UN human rights experts, such as the special rapporteur on torture, to shed light on such abuses.

Campaign documents used by Bouteflika’s campaign counter that his government has consistently granted licenses to new media outlets. “Between 2009 and 2013, the number of daily newspapers rose from 78 to 142,” they say, adding that two laws in favour of freedom of expression were passed under the current president.

“Algerians now have access to numerous private TV channels, which work in the field to reflect the country’s wide diversity,” Bouteflika campaigner Bekkouche said.

But Amnesty International argues that their licenses are temporary and can be revoked by the authorities on a whim.

Ads pulled from critical newspaper

Money, too, can be used to silence critical media, according to H'mida Ayachi, the head of Algérie News. Government agencies, who provide the majority of advertising revenues in Algeria, cancelled all contracts with his newspaper this week. “This has happened because our paper gave space to certain opposition groups, including the Barakat movement,” Ayachi told FRANCE 24. “We're being punished for this. The president’s supporters are clearly set on muzzling the opposition.”

Ali Benflis, the leading opposition candidate in the presidential race, also attacked Bouteflika’s freedom record, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “Political parties have been destabilised. Only one trade union is registered. The press is marginalised and it suffers from a lack of independence. That is the record of the Bouteflika presidency,” he said.

FRANCE 24 Report: Is Algeria’s civil society mobilising?

Date created : 2014-04-15

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