On the eve of the presidential election, new tightening of the screws on freedoms

On the eve of the presidential election, new tightening of the screws on freedoms
On the eve of the presidential election, new tightening of the screws on freedoms

“Everything was going very well. The debate was exciting, then suddenly the police burst into the room and asked us to stop the discussion.” French writer Dominique Martre will not forget that afternoon of Saturday, June 29, when she went to Béjaïa, in Kabylie, to sign Kabylie in sharinga book in which she recounts her experience as a French teacher in the 1970s in a village in this region of Algeria. She was taken into a police van to a police station in the city, where she was held and questioned for more than four hours.

Alleged dispute

His Algerian publisher, Arezki Aït-Larbi, also arrested in the bookstore that hosted the event, questions the meaning of this police raid. Especially since the book was “legally published by Koukou Editions and that it has been available in bookstores since March 2022”, not considering, “Two days before, the same book was presented, without problem, in a bookstore in central Algiers”. The authorities have not communicated on the incident. The confiscated copies were returned to the bookstore. But concordant sources explained this gesture by “a misunderstanding ” from the title of the work which concerns Kabylie, known to be hostile to the central power.

This event is not an isolated act. Two days earlier, on June 27, Omar Ferhat, director of the publication Algeria Scoop, and Sofiane Ghirous, the editor-in-chief of the news site, were placed in pre-trial detention. Abdelaziz Laadjal, a journalist for the same media outlet, is under judicial supervision. According to the National Committee for the Liberation of Prisoners (CNLD), they are being prosecuted for “incitement to hate speech and propagation of hate speech” following the posting of a video in which women from the south of the country complain about « marginalisation » and of ” contempt “ during a trade fair organized by the Ministry of Vocational Training.

This judicial decision is, however, contrary to the Constitution, according to which “press offences cannot be punished by a custodial sentence”The NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for their release.

Waiting for “gestures of appeasement”

Few voices have denounced this new hardening of power. No doubt because of the many convictions to heavy prison sentences during the years following Covid. More recently, the courts have been content to impose judicial supervision on a majority of people arrested for writings on social networks or accused of having called for protest.

This was the case in the town of Tiaret, southwest of Algiers, where residents demonstrated against the shortage of drinking water. But two months before the presidential election, scheduled for September 7, the authorities clearly want to neutralize any dissenting voice.

Many are waiting for “appeasement gestures” from President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, on the occasion of the commemoration of Independence Day, this July 5, the date on which he is expected to announce his candidacy for a second term. Those who have met him recently affirm that the head of state would be willing to release certain detainees, including the journalist Ihsane El-Kadi. But no public commitment has been made to this effect.

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