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Algeria arrests independent journalist as watchdog accuses authorities of using coronavirus crisis for crackdown

Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni has been arrested [Twitter]

Date of publication: 28 March, 2020

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Independent Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni, who has covered anti-government 'Hirak' protests, was arrested Friday.

An Algerian journalist was arrested on Friday, press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said, accusing the country's government of using the coronavirus crisis to crack down on independent media.

Khaled Drareni, who serves as RSF's Algerian correspondent, has been arrested several times for covering "Hirak" anti-government protests that had been held in the capital Algiers every Friday since February 2019 until they were suspended last week.

"This evening Algeria arrested our correspondent Khaled Drareni," said RSF's North Africa Twitter account on Friday.

It went on to denounce the "the shameless use of Covid-19 by the Algerian regime to settle scores with free and independent journalism".

The CNLD prisoners' rights group said Drareni had been taken to a police station and faced indictment on Saturday.

He was arrested on March 7 while covering a Hirak protest, accused of "inciting an unarmed gathering and damaging national integrity". He was then released on March 10. 

"@khaleddrareni has been a fundamental voice covering #Algeria's affairs over the past year, he has played a major role in enlightening the world about the revolution of February 22nd," analyst Zine Labidine Ghebouli tweeted.

"His detention today is irresponsible, shameful and proves that the system has not changed."

The weekly "Hirak" protests were suspended over Covid-19, which has killed 26 people and infected 409 in Algeria, according to official figures.

Read more: Quarantined for now, Algeria's protesters vow to return

However the courts have continued their work, with Karim Tabbou - a key figure in the anti-government protests that have rocked the North African country - sentenced to a year in prison on Tuesday.

Rights groups say several dozen people connected with the protest movement remain in detention, though the exact number is difficult to establish due to rearrests.

Vast demonstrations broke out in Algeria in February last year after then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced a bid for a fifth term after 20 years in power.

He stepped down in April after losing the support of the army, but protesters have continued to hold weekly mass rallies demanding a sweeping overhaul of the ruling elite.

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