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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Algerian protesters call for free press, judiciary

Thousands protested in Algiers to demand press freedom and an independent judiciary [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 March, 2021

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Journalists were assaulted at last week's Hirak demonstration and authorities have threatened to permanently withdraw France 24's media accreditation.

Thousands protested in Algiers Friday to demand press freedom and judicial independence, as the Hirak pro-democracy movement keeps up its weekly demonstrations, despite a ban on gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Hirak protest movement was sparked in February 2019 over then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing strongman was forced to step down weeks later, but the Hirak continued with demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria's independence from France in 1962.

"Freedom means expressing myself how I want and not how you want," one placard on Friday read.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Algeria 146 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, a 27-place drop from 2015.

Several journalists were assaulted at the demonstration a week earlier, and Algerian authorities have threatened to permanently withdraw international broadcaster France 24's media accreditation.

Read more: Algeria threatens to withdraw France 24 press accreditation over 'blatant bias'

"Nothing justifies attacking a journalist or any other person," said Ali, a retired teacher in his sixties who declined to provide his surname.

He told AFP he hoped for "free, professional and above all objective and impartial press".

Protesters also called for an "independent judiciary".

Since the movement's second anniversary on February 22, thousands have taken to the streets for weekly protests, which had been suspended for almost a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Friday's demonstration came as Algeria marked the anniversary of the March 19, 1962, ceasefire that ended its war of independence from France.

"19 March 1962: ceasefire, 19 March 2021: cease repression," one protest sign read.

"Return the power to the people," protesters demanded, addressing the ruling class.

Demonstrators also criticised President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's decision to call early elections on June 12 in an attempt to assuage the country's political and economic crisis.

Tebboune has reached out to the protest movement while also seeking to neutralise it.

"No elections with the mafia gang (in power)," protesters chanted.

Local media reported demonstrations in several other cities, despite poor weather. 

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