Algerian courts hands tough jail terms to three opposition activists

A horizontal map image of Algeria
Algerian protesters gathered during a weekly anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers on March 13 before the coronavirus outbreak halted such rallies (AFP Photo/RYAD KRAMDI )

Algerian courts handed tough jail sentences to three opposition activists whose Facebook posts they deemed potentially damaging to the national interest, according to human rights group.

The National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD) announced on its Facebook page that Soheib Debaghi was handed a one-year sentence on Wednesday on charges of encouraging an illegal gathering, insulting an official body and publishing potentially damaging material.

According Human rights group, Amnesty International, the other two activists Larbi Tahar and Boussif Mohamed Boudiaf were handed 18-month prison sentences by a court in the western town of El Bayadh, also for the posts on Facebook.

The prosecution had called for three-year jail terms, the CNLD said.

According to Facebook post from the activists’ lawyer, Abdelghani Badi, Tahar was accused of having insulted President Abdelmadjid Tebboune by calling him “illegitimate”, while Boudiaf had criticized the “injustice” of Algeria’s judicial system.

Algeria has been rocked by weekly anti-government protests for more than a year and only came to a stop due to the coronavirus outbreak, with the authorities banning marches, although the opposition had already suspended their gatherings.

Analysts and activists fear Algerian authorities are using the pandemic as a pretext for crushing the “Hirak” protest movement.

Around 50 people are currently in detention over links to the movement, according the human rights group.

Late last month, Amnesty urged the authorities to end “arbitrary prosecutions aimed at silencing Hirak activists and journalists” during the pandemic, and called for the release of detainees.

The rights group said that authorities were endangering detainees’ health, “given the risks of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons and places of detention”.