As the mass movement that has defined Algerian politics since 2019 returns from a pause due to the global health emergency, the Tebboune government’s repression of journalists appears to intensify.
The Algerian “Hirak” (“Movement”, in Arabic) began in February 2019 as a reaction to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s seeking a fifth presidential mandate. Protests were then held against the “Fifth Mandate” every Friday, with 100s of 1000s of Algerians across the country participating.
Bouteflika renounced his presidential bid in April that year, though protests continued through the entirety of 2019, even after the current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s electoral victory in December. Turnout for that vote was lower than 40%, the lowest in the history of presidential elections in the country, and the Friday protests continued into 2020.
However, in the spring of 2020, with cases of Covid-19 rising rapidly, various Hirak personalities called for the pausing of the protest.
Since 22 February this year – the second anniversary of the movement – a huge number of Algerians have returned to the streets, most notably in the capital, Algiers.
The protests have been marked throughout by the relative absence of violence. Yet, despite protestors having chanted “The Army and the People are Brothers” throughout 2019, the Movement has been repressed at multiple points.
Several journalists have been detained, most famously Khalid Drareni, who was only recently released after his August 2020 arrest.
And, over the last weeks, several journalists have been attacked by security services, and authorities have threatened to withdraw France 24’s accreditation.
Yesterday’s (19 Friday) demonstration fell on the same day as the 1962 ceasefire that marked the end of the war of independence against France. One sign read: “19 March 1962: ceasefire. 19 March 2021: cease repression”.
Algeria is currently ranked 146th out of 180 countries in Reporter Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places down on 2019, and 27 places lower than in 2015.
Protests are expected to continue next Friday.