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Algeria arrested famous journalists before activist elections | Middle East News

Amnesty says detainees Khaled Drareni, Ihsane El Kadi and Karim Tabbou are evidence of a “cold escalation” against dissent.

Algerian authorities have arrested two prominent journalists and a well-known opposition figure a few days before the country’s parliamentary elections.

Algeria will hold its first parliamentary elections on Saturday, after former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to step down in 2019 due to mass protests. Demonstrations against the long-running new leader’s election quickly changed in demands for systemic change.

On Friday, Amnesty International said the arrest of journalists Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi and the arrest of popular activist Karim Tabbou were evidence of a “cold escalation” against dissent.

The National Commission for the Liberation of Detainees said Tabbou, a group of lawyers defending imprisoned militants of the pro-democracy movement Hira, was arrested on Thursday night in the southwestern suburbs of the capital Algiers.

Tabbou, a prominent member of Hirak, was previously jailed from September 2019 to July 2020, and spent more than a month under judicial supervision, which barred him from engaging in any political activity.

On Saturday, Algeria will hold its first legislative elections since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was ousted in 2019 after 20 years in power [File: Ryad Kramdi/AFP]

An Algerian court sentenced Tabbouri to one year in prison in November for “inciting violence” and “damaging the image of the military.” The decision on the appeal is expected on June 19.

A group of lawyers said El Kadi has been in custody since Thursday night for questioning at the Antar police station. He is the news director of the Maghreb Emergent and Radio M network, which gives voice to members of the opposition. He is also an activist in the pro-democracy movement.

Algerian Communications Minister Ammar Belhimer has accused El Kadi of “disseminating information that could be detrimental to national unity”.

El Kadi was placed under judicial inspection on May 18 for giving orders to report to the police station once a week. His passport was confiscated.

Independent journalist Drareni was detained in a barracks on the outskirts of Algiers. The only contact he had with the family was a phone call at 1:30 a.m., lawyer Zoubida Assoul said.

The journalist, who was only released in February after being arrested during a mass demonstration in the capital in March last year, was expected to face a new trial.

Amnesty condemned the trio’s arrests, saying they had done so as a “reward” for their connection to the protest movement.

“Instead of gathering journalists and political opponents in order to suppress and intimidate members of the Hira protest movement, the Algerian authorities should focus on respecting their human rights obligations,” said Amna Guellali, deputy director of the Middle East and Northern rights group. Africa, he said in a note.

Hirak supporters have pledged to boycott the election, calling on President Abdelmadjid Tebboune as part of his commitment to fight corruption and build a “new Algeria”, accusing it of increasing repression of the opposition and increasing repression of protests.

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