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UN rights expert calls on Algeria to pardon convicted protesters

“The Government must loosen tight restrictions on assemblies and associations to bring laws and practice into conformity with the national Constitution and international human rights law”, said Clément Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to assembly, in a statement at the end of a 10-day official visit to Algeria.

He was there as the country weighs ongoing reforms to bring legislation into line with the 2020 Constitution and the aspirations of what are known as the “Hirak demonstrations”, which saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets across Algeria’s major cities to protest every week for more than a year between 2019 and 2020.

Protest movement

The Hirak (“movement” in Arabic) refers to a popular protest movement that emerged in Algeria in February 2019 in response to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s announcement of his intention to seek a fifth term in office, despite declining health and two decades of rule.

The movement demanded political and economic reforms, as well as the removal of longstanding political elites.

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Hirak demonstrators showed remarkable civic spirit, setting an example for the world on the conduct of peaceful protests,” Voule said.

Repressive tactics

Since its inception, the movement has faced various challenges, including the arrest of activists, restrictions on protests, and attempts by the Government to co-opt and control it.

“The Government must now address the climate of fear caused by a string of criminal charges against individuals, associations, trade unions and political parties under overly restrictive laws, including anti-terrorism legislation contrary to Algeria’s international human rights obligations,” the Special Rapporteur said.

The protests initially aimed to prevent Bouteflika’s re-election, but they quickly evolved into broader demands for democratic change and an end to the entrenched political system.

Push for recognition

“In the spirit of the peaceful Hirak protests, the common message from all civil society actors I met was to be recognised by public authorities as trusted partners in the development of their country,” the UN expert said.

The movement was largely driven by Algerian citizens, including youth, students, activists and professionals, who mobilised through social media platforms.

“In building the new Algeria, I urge the Government to abandon charges and pardon those people convicted for their involvement in the Hirak. This will also reflect recognition of Hirak as a turning point in Algeria’s commitment to move forward,” he said.

Mr. Voule said that while he observed efforts to improve the economic situation of the population, Algeria was still struggling to provide space for civil society.

Meet ‘the promise of the constitution’

“To meet the promise of the Constitution and the Hirak, and to fulfil its obligations under international human rights treaties, Algeria must guarantee, in law and in practice, the right of its population to assemble and associate freely, to exchange views and ideas and defend specific interests, including in collaboration with partners within and outside the country,” Voule stated.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a comprehensive report on his visit to Algeria to the Human Rights Council in June 2024.

Special Rapporteurs and other UN experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and receive no salary for their work.

 

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