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The New Arab

Leading Algerian opposition politician sentenced to jail for 'harming army morale'

Algerians march for the release of opposition figure Karim Tabbou [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 March, 2020

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Karim Tabbou was sentenced to one year in prison - having already spent six months largely in solitary confinement - on charges including 'harming army morale' and 'undermining national unity'.
One of Algeria's key opposition politicians was sentenced to one year in prison on Wednesday over his role in an anti-government protest movement, prompting outcry from human rights groups.

Karim Tabbou, the founder of the Social and Democratic Union party - which has been banned in Algeria - was first arrested in September after he took part in a conference calling for the rejection of the December presidential elections.

His charges included "harming army morale", "undermining national unity" and "inciting violence". Much of his pre-trial detention has spent in solitary confinement.

The Algiers court sentenced Tabbou to six months behind bars as well as a six month suspended sentence. Having almost completed six months in prison, Tabbou is expected to be released at the end of the month to serve his suspended sentence.

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The prosecution had originally sought a four-year prison sentence and 200,000 dinar fine ($1,700).

Tabbou, 46, was first seized by plain clothed police officers at his home on 12 September 2019 and placed in pre-trial detention. After an appeal, Tabbou was released on 25 September but re-arrested less than 24 hours later.

Amnesty International launched strong condemnation last week of the Algerian authorities embarked on sweeping arrests of peaceful protesters.

Algerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all peaceful protesters who have been detained for association, peaceful assembly and what they've said, Amnesty International commented.

Since the presidential election in December, which protesters largely denounced as a sham, at least 76 protesters have been arbitrarily detained.

Among those arrested include civil society activists, journalists and political leaders, who face charges such as "harming national security", "harming the army's morale" and "offending public officials".

"The Algerian authorities are deploying the threat of criminal trials against dozens of peaceful protesters, apparently in a bid to intimidate and silence critical voices. The use of trumped-up charges related to national security and the military is particularly outrageous," said Amnesty International's Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther, said in a statement.

"Persecuting peaceful protesters is certainly not the response Algerians who have taken to the streets and demanded wide-ranging reforms were waiting for."

Protests broke out against the authoritarian regime in February 2019, successfully toppling President Abdelaziz Bouteflika but the old military regime continues to wield power.

The total number of prosecutions of peaceful protesters has exceeded 1,400 since February 2019, according to local human rights groups and lawyers.

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