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Amnesty: Algeria’s Campaign of Arrests Undermines Reform Credibility

Amnesty: Algeria’s Campaign of Arrests Undermines Reform Credibility

Monday, 29 June, 2020 - 04:45
Algerian protesters clash with police during a protest in 2019. AP file photo

The Algerian authorities’ relentless campaign of mass arbitrary arrests and a crackdown on activists and protesters risk undermining the credibility of Algeria's constitutional reform process, Amnesty International has said.

It was refereeing to a committee appointed by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune that has completed a pre-draft of the constitutional revision and will submit it to him for final approval.

In a memorandum sent to the authorities, Amnesty expressed concerns about a number of provisions in the pre-draft of the proposed constitutional revision such as those on the rights to expression and assembly and the right to life, while welcoming some of the strengthened language on women’s rights and economic and social rights.

“While peaceful civil society and political activists, as well as journalists, languish behind bars, the constitutional draft stands as a reminder that the authorities' overdue promises of listening to the Hirak protest movement are far from reality,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director.

“If the Algerian authorities wish this constitutional redrafting process be taken seriously as part of their stated commitment towards human rights, they must stop arresting opposition activists and release all those already detained or sentenced solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” she said.

According to Hirak activists, who have suspended their protests since March over the coronavirus outbreak, some 50 persons remain in prison for expressing their viewpoints and making a stance against Tebboune.

Amnesty said that some of the proposed amendments fall short of international standards on other human rights, such as the right to life as it keeps open the possibility to resort to the death penalty.

The proposed changes would strengthen the powers of the Supreme Judicial council, which is a self-governing supervisory body. However, the government would continue to retain significant powers over the judicial system, including by retaining the President as council head and giving him the power to appoint directly important judicial functions.

The proposed pre-draft amendments also state that freedom of the press should not be subject to prior limitations or censorship but then condition it on respect for “the fundamental religious, moral and cultural values of the nation,” and regulation by the law.

Both of these keep the door open for authorities to crackdown on journalists and others for criticizing the government, said Amnesty.

While freedom of expression is also provided for, conditioning it on national law will allow for the retention of repressive las such as the April 2020 Penal Code amendments criminalizing the dissemination of "fake news" with prison sentences of up to three years, it added.

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