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Algeria: Justice Minister Accused of Clamping Down on Hirak Activists

Algeria: Justice Minister Accused of Clamping Down on Hirak Activists

Monday, 30 March, 2020 - 07:45
People carry the national flags during a protest in Algiers, Algeria. (Reuters file photo)

A number of Algerian lawyers and jurists strongly criticized the Justice Minister, Belkacem Zghemati, for imprisoning dozens of Hirak activists during the truce agreed upon following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Union for the Algerian Bar Associations and the Minister have a tense relationship because of his continuous persecution of activists.

Lawyer and human rights activist Noureddine ben Yassaad told Asharq Al-Awsat that the minister is not acting upon what has been agreed on.

The investigating judges ordered the cessation of measures that could hinder liberties during the critical health conditions in the country with the spread of coronavirus, explained ben Yassaad, adding that activists should not be imprisoned.

Dozens of protesters were summoned by the police for interrogation, who referred them to the prosecution and investigative judges, and many of them were imprisoned.

Hirak has announced the suspension of all protests in order to preserve public health. However, according to Ben Yassaad, the authorities and Justice Minister, in particular, took advantage of this to settle their accounts with the activists.

A spokesman for the Justice Ministry declined to comment on the lawyers' accusations.

Meanwhile, Journalist Khaled Drareni was put in temporary detention, before being sent to the investigating judge.

Drareni, a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and French TV5, is accused of “unlicensed protesting” and “incitement against national unity.”

On March 07, Drareni was about to take pictures of demonstrators when security men arrested him and took him to a security center in Algiers’ eastern suburb, where he was detained for three nights along with several political activists, including Samir Belarbi and Suleiman Hamitouche.

The judge placed Drareni in judicial supervision and issued a travel ban against him while ordering that the activists be placed in pretrial detention.

All three faced the same charges, noting that Belarbi was acquitted about 45 days ago, after five months in prison over charges of “weakening the morale of the army.”

Over 200 of Drareni’s colleagues signed a petition demanding his release, noting that authorities have violated Article 50 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press and prevents the journalist's imprisonment.

Drareni’s lawyers believe the charges against him have been fabricated because the activist has become a nuisance for the authorities during his reporting on the protests and imprisonment of other activists.

Another journalist, Sofiane Marrakchi, also remains in prison for violating customs laws.

Marrakchi, a Lebanese channel correspondent in Algeria, was accused of importing television equipment without paying customs. The journalist denies the allegations and confirms that he has bought them from a commercial electronic platform, adding that his colleagues use similar equipment and have not faced any problems.

His lawyers have protested his accusation, saying that the case does not require imprisonment and a fine is enough.

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