A campaigner on behalf of unemployed people has been arrested and detained in Algeria, amid continuing repression of social and economic rights activists, Amnesty International said today.
Taher Belabès was arrested in the southern town of Ouargla on 2 January, after police dispersed a reportedly peaceful protest that demanded jobs and the departure of local officials in charge of tackling unemployment.
While protesters in Algeria are often detained for a few hours and then released, Belabès is still being held two days after his arrest. Officials have said Belabès will be charged with "obstructing the flow of traffic" and "inciting a gathering", an offence punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.
The authorities are increasingly using such charges against people who exercise their legitimate right to peaceful assembly.
"The authorities should not detain or prosecute peaceful protesters," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "If Taher Belabès is charged with 'inciting a gathering', this would confirm an increasing trend of judicial harassment of activists in Algeria,"
Belabès, a co-ordinator for the National Committee for the Defence of the Rights of the Unemployed (CNDDC), had already been arrested over previous protests by unemployed people. Other social and economic rights activists have also been targeted. At least five, including Abdelkader Kerba of the CNDDC, were charged in 2012 with offences relating to "inciting a gathering",
"We believe that the Algerian authorities are using these charges to intimidate activists and protesters campaigning against youth unemployment and poverty," said Luther.
"Despite the lifting of the state of emergency in 2011, restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression are still in place."
Ouargla is in oil-rich southern Algeria, where unemployed youth have been mobilizing to demand jobs as several oil companies operate there.
Algeria has seen protests over poverty, unemployment and corruption increase during the past two years.
Although Algeria lifted its 31-year state of emergency in 2011 amid region-wide pro-reform demonstrations, the government continued to ban protests in the capital, Algiers, and introduced new laws restricting the media and NGOs.
Algerian civil society groups and human rights activists continue to suffer threats and harassment from the authorities, and laws restricting freedom of assembly are still in place.
Amnesty International has called on the Algerian authorities to repeal or amend Law No. 91-19 Governing Public Meetings and Demonstrations, which requires organizers to request authorization eight days before the event,
The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression recommended the Law be amended to require notification for public demonstrations rather than authorization.