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Algerian court sentences Hirak activist to 10 years jail for ‘inciting atheism’

Algeria has cracked down on the Hirak protest movement [Getty File Image]

Date of publication: 8 October, 2020

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A court in Algeria has sentenced an anti-government activist to 10 years in prison for ‘inciting atheism’ after a Koran with a page ripped out was found at his home

An Algerian court on Thursday handed a key member of the Hirak anti-government protest movement a 10-year prison sentence for "inciting atheism", a rights group said.

Yacine Mebarki was also found guilty of "offending Islam" and fined 10 million dinars ($77,400), Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian Human Rights League said.

Salhi said he was "shocked by such a heavy verdict against a citizen who only expressed his opinion online".

The sentence was the longest given to a member of the Hirak, the popular anti-government movement that led demonstrations which ousted former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power last year.

Read also: Algeria's Hirak protest movement is gearing up for a comeback

At the start of the trial, the prosecution demanded Mebarki be jailed for eight years.

But in a rare move the judge at the Khenchela court in eastern Algeria decided to add two more years to that term.

Mebarki denied any wrongdoing and will appeal, Salhi said.

The 52-year-old activist had been arrested on September 30 during a raid at his home.

According to a friend, the police found an old and faded copy of the Koran with one of its pages ripped -- something considered as an attack against Islam.

Salhi said Mebarki had been convicted of inciting atheism and "offending Islam" as well as inciting discrimination and hatred.

"It's a case of freedom of conscience and opinion," Salhi said, calling for Mebarki's release and for charges against him to be dropped.

The Hirak-led protests broke out in February last year and led to the resignation of Bouteflika, whose plans to run for a fifth term had sparked the protests.

Weekly demonstrations continued after Bouteflika's ouster to demand wholesale political changes but halted in March this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile authorities have cracked down on activists, journalists and government critics, with many jailed and convicted on various charges.

A total of 61 people are currently behind bars for acts related to "Hirak", according to CNLD, a rights group that lists prisoners of conscience in Algeria.

In a bid to mollify the protest movement, Algeria on Wednesday launched a campaign for constitutional reforms which will be put to a referendum in November.

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