Algerian artists to hold virtual concert to support detained protesters

Tunis (AFP) –


Algerian artists are holding an online concert Saturday evening in support of anti-government protesters detained in the country's prisons and freedom of expression.

"Songs of Freedom" will be broadcast on YouTube and several Facebook pages from 9:00 pm (20:00 GMT) in Algiers, said organisers -- a group of collectives from the Algerian diaspora.

The concert will take place just a few hours before Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Free Algeria, a group that brings together collectives of Algerians in several European countries and the US, came up with the idea for the event.

More than a dozen Algerian artists and media outlets are supporting the initiative, including Radio Corona Internationale, Wesh Derna, Berbere TV and L'Avant-Garde, which was recently censored in Algeria.

Artists on the line-up for the hour-long virtual event include Algerian-Quebecois group Labess, Gnawa rocker Cheikh Sidi Bemol and singer Amel Zen.

Zen told AFP she was participating in solidarity with the detainees.

"They must be released!" she said, adding, "We have two viruses: corona(virus) and repression."

Weekly anti-government protests rocked Algeria for more than a year starting in February 2019 and only came to a halt due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, with the authorities banning marches -- although the opposition had already suspended its gatherings.

Yet opponents, journalists, independent media and internet users have remained among the government's targets.

Fifteen activists were handed prison sentences this week, three for posts on social media.

Faiza Menai, a member of Free Algeria and the collective Debout l'Algerie, hailed the courage of Algeria-based artists participating in the event in the current climate.

Menai told AFP that some artists had sent video messages for protest movement detainees along with the recording of their performance.

"This evening, we are going to sing for prisoners of conscience", Cheikh Sidi Bemol wrote on Facebook.

"We will stay watch and think of all the political prisoners locked in their cells, far from their parents, their families, their children, their friends."

Vast demonstrations broke out in Algeria in February last year after then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced a bid for a fifth term after 20 years in power.

He stepped down in April 2019 after losing the support of the army, but protesters had continued to hold mass rallies demanding a sweeping overhaul of the ruling system.