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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Five jailed after banned Algeria demonstration

Algerian authorities have banned protests as a coronavirus restriction [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 June, 2020

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Lawyers accused the Algerian regime of attempting to repress peaceful anti-government protesters through banning demonstrations on the pretext of coronavirus restrictions.

Five people were sentenced Tuesday in Algeria to between six months and a year behind bars after taking part in a banned demonstration, prisoners' rights group CNLD said.

Fourteen people - the youngest aged 19 - appeared in court after being taken in for questioning in Tizi Ouzou, in the country's northeast, following an anti-government demonstration on Friday.

All were accused of taking part in an "unarmed gathering". Two other charges, including destruction of property, were dropped.

One of the accused was sentenced to a year in prison, effective immediately, for carrying a knife, the CNLD said.

Two others were sentenced to six months in prison and two more to a year behind bars pending appeal, while nine others were released.

The prosecutor had sought five years' prison for all the accused.

The regime "continues its repression of peaceful protesters", Aissa Rahmoune from the defence team told AFP before the verdict.

Videos shared on social media showed demonstrations in support of the accused near the court in Tizi Ouzo ahead of the hearing.

Algeria's anti-government protest movement known as the Hirak began in February 2019.

After obtaining the resignation of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April that year, protests have continued, demanding an overhaul of the political system in place since Algeria's independence from France in 1962.

Algerian authorities have recently been arresting and prosecuting activists in an apparent bid to prevent protests from resuming when the country's coronavirus lockdown is lifted.

They have also targeted journalists and social media users.

Almost 500 pro-Hirak protesters were taken in for questioning Friday across the country after demonstrating despite a ban due to the pandemic.

Most were subsequently released.

Some human rights activists say that with the recent arrests and prosecutions, the rights situation in Algeria is now worse than during Bouteflika's rule, particularly with regard to freedom of the press.

Also on Tuesday, Abdelkrim Zeghileche, a journalist and head of a web-based Algerian radio station, was called in for questioning in the northeastern city of Constantine and taken to court, the CNLD said.

And in Adrar in the south, human rights activist Mohad Gasmi, who has been in preventive detention since June 14, was placed under a committal order, it added.

Dublin-based NGO Front Line Defenders has said Gasmi was accused of "praising terrorism".

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