Algerians protest arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators

Thousands of Algerians marched through the capital on Friday to denounce what they called mass arrests of members of the pro-democracy protest movement Hirak.

“Police everywhere, justice nowhere,” said a sign carried by the marchers.

The march was seen as a test of the Hirak’s popularity, after police stopped a weekly student march in Algiers on Tuesday, arresting scores of supporters.

When the protesters were released, they pledged not to participate in the Hirak marches any longer, risking arrest if they did, said Said Salhi of the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH).

“It is intimidation and a means of exerting pressure to weaken the Hirak,” said Salhi, calling it “an attack on public freedoms contrary to the right guaranteed by law”.

The National Prisoner Liberation Committee (CNLD) estimates that around 70 people are in prison because of their links with the Hirak or other peaceful political activities of the opposition.

Despite the high temperatures and people fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, large crowds marched through Algiers for “Friday 115,” the number of weeks since the Hirak protests began on February 22, 2019.

“Let go of our children so that they fast with us during this Ramadan,” chanted the protesters.

Protesters also reiterated their opposition to the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections in June.

The Hirak protest movement was sparked by the candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fifth term.

The ailing leader was forced to resign weeks later, but the Hirak continued its protests, demanding a major overhaul of the system of government in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962 .

Algeria on Thursday released Karim Tabbou, a leading opposition activist, after his arrest the day before.

Tabbou, who was given a one-year suspended prison sentence last year for “endangering state security”, has been charged with eight counts, including “libel”, after allegedly heckling an official in public at a funeral.

Tabbou and other government opponents have pledged to boycott the upcoming elections.

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