Algeria tightens security grip on freedom of expression

Algeria tightens security grip on freedom of expression
Algeria tightens security grip on freedom of expression

Adopted in December 2020, the Algerian Constitution formally guarantees freedom of the written, audiovisual and electronic press. However, since the Hirak ran out of steam, a series of repressive laws have been promulgated in 2021, 2023, and most recently at the end of April 2024, de facto eroding any form of freedom of expression in the country.

These restrict the right to freedom of expression of journalists and the media, but also that of Algerian opponents and contain several worrying provisions. Algiers, in the year 2024, seems to have taken a bold – and worrying – turn with the adoption of laws that could make the greatest dystopian novelists pale.

In a dizzying downward spiral, Algeria has just carved into the stone of its Official Journal provisions that could still make the most hardened human rights defenders shudder. These texts, published in the latest edition, introduce modifications to the Penal Code which redefine treason and terrorism to encompass almost any form of protest.

Imagine a regime where criticizing the economy or disclosing questionable procurement could earn you the label of traitor to the nation. And for good reason, article 63 bis, for example, provides for life imprisonment for anyone who “discloses confidential information or documents” on security, defense or the national economy to “foreign agents”. But the artistic vagueness with which the notions of “security” and “national economy” are defined opens a gaping door to arbitrariness.

Even more, the Algerian legislator, in a burst of exacerbated protectionism, seems to confuse political opposition and acts of terrorism. Article 87 bis, redefined since 2021, transforms political criticism into a quasi-terrorist act, assimilating any form of protest to a threat against state security. An effective way, certainly, of sweeping debates under the carpet by emphasizing the protection of the nation.

In this great legislative orchestration, each new law appears like an additional hammer blow to the coffin of freedom of expression. The objective seems clear: muzzle dissent, stifle the free press, and transform whistleblowers into enemies of the state. In the information age, where transparency is often seen as a pillar of democracy, these initiatives appear not only counterproductive, but dangerously regressive.

In summary, with these new laws, Algeria could well transform into a theater in which criticism becomes risky and the truth a luxury. Human rights defenders, journalists, and committed citizens are thus faced with a tragic dilemma: remain silent or risk prison. A choice which, in any self-respecting regime, should never exist.

These texts, by their calculated ambiguity, seem straight out of a toolbox for apprentice dictators. They could not only turn journalists into prisoners, but also turn whistleblowers into heretics to be repressed. Who would have thought that in 2024, sharing information could become an act of high treason? Each article of law seems designed to further suffocate freedom of expression, blithely confusing national security with simple government criticism.

Under the guise of the fight against terrorism and protection of the economy, the regime of the capos of Algiers adopts a panoply of laws which assimilate any protest to a criminal act. In the blink of an eye, activism and investigative journalism could find themselves stigmatized as quasi-terrorist enterprises.

In this great theater of the absurd, where criticism becomes treason, we witness not the protection, but the asphyxiation of civil society by Kafkaesque laws which could make us smile if they were not so tragically real. East of Eden, the regime of the two seniles of Algiers, in a burst of unprecedented foresight, is proposing laws to regulate freedom of expression. It’s an initiative that even George Orwell would have found a little too daring to feature in his works.

These new laws, a true masterpiece of restriction, could transform the Algerian media landscape into a charming garden where only flowers approved by the state could bloom. Under the cover of protecting the nation, the power in place seems determined to impose a strict media diet on its citizens, limiting informational calories harmful to their political digestion. Censorship in Algeria is a small price to pay for public peace. Ah, to protect the people from themselves, what a noble purpose!

Between sarcasm and bitterness, one could wonder if these laws will mark the advent of a new era where the press will no longer be the people’s watchdog, but the government’s parrot. Human rights defenders, armed with their pens and their indignation, are speaking out against what they see as an assault on fundamental freedoms. But, perhaps the military dictatorial power of Algiers knows something that the rest of the world does not?

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