Jun 05, 2024
Civic Space in Algeria at the beginning of 2024: Legislative and Political Challenges Restricting All Freedoms

Civic Space in Algeria at the beginning of 2024: Legislative and Political Challenges Restricting All Freedoms

This year began with additional challenges to civic space in Algeria. The strategy of restricting and stifling the remaining spaces for political and civil expression continued. In the first four months of this year, new challenges were caused by amendments to some laws, allowing the various executive bodies to further limit freedom of expression, press freedoms, freedom of assembly and organization, and other liberties. These challenges point to the continued fear of the authorities of the popular movement that destabilized the foundations of the ruling system in the spring of 2019.

One of the most prominent pieces of amended legislation is the Penal Code. It was approved by Parliament in both chambers in the spring of 2024 and published in the Official Gazette of the Algerian Republic in Issue No. 30 on April 30. The law used the notion of "national interest" to further restrict civil space without specifying its accurate legal meaning, keeping it up to the discretion of the judicial police, courts, and judges.

For example, Article 96 imposes a prison sentence from two to five years and a fine for "anyone who distributes, places for sale, exposes to the public, or possesses, with the intention of distributing, selling, or displaying for the purpose of advertising, publications, brochures, papers, videos, or audio recordings that may harm national interest." It also states: "If the publications, pamphlets, papers, videos, or audio recordings are from a foreign source or inspiration, the penalty shall be doubled." The judicial authority may also impose the penalty of deprivation of rights and ban on residence.

The law also described as "treason" specific acts related to communicating and handing over secret documents and those related to security and defense issues to a foreign party. One article stipulates that "any Algerian who leaks secret information or documents on security, defense, or national economy through social media for the benefit of a foreign country or one of its clients shall be deemed to have committed the crime of treason and shall be punished with life imprisonment."

The law prescribed heavy penalties for those involved in what it described as "treason, " which it defined as "anyone who leaks confidential information or documents related to security, national defense, or the national economy through social media with the intention of harming the interests of the Algerian state or stability of its institutions.

The law also increased penalties against writers, bloggers, and political activists who question the army and security institutions, considering "an attack on army morale." It punishes "with temporary imprisonment from 5 to 10 years and a fine of up to one million Algerian dinars anyone who contributes in peacetime to a project to weaken the morale of the People's National Army or other corps, knowingly intending to harm national defense or security."

Another article of the law also legislates legal protection to members of the public force and security services for acts committed while performing missions related to fighting crime. The article indicates that "acts committed by members of the public force during or on the occasion of exercising their duties to put an end to a crime are justified" if investigations by the judicial authority proved that its members have carried out "what falls within the necessary cases of legitimate defense: killing, wounding, or beating committed to prevent the attack on a person’s life or bodily safety or to prevent climbing barriers, walls, or entrances to homes or inhabited places and their accessories, or breaking any of them during the night, and the act committed in defense of oneself or others against perpetrators of theft or robbery by force."

The law also preserved Article 87 bis, through which political activists can be prosecuted on terrorism charges. However, after its inclusion in 2021, the article was widely denounced in Algeria and abroad. The UN rapporteur on assemblies had called for its abolition, but the authorities still believe it is justified.

These amendments increased the scope of legal restrictions on all freedoms, including freedom of the press and expression. They are a continuation of legislations issued after the suppression of the popular movement marches at the end of 2021, such as the laws on media, written and electronic journalism, and audiovisual activity issued at the end of last year. These legislations provide the legal foundations for the continued detention of journalists and political activists and the restrictions on media institutions, political parties, and civil society associations.

These indicators show that the challenges will increase further with the announcement that the presidential elections will be brought forward to September 7 instead of December. It seems Algerian authorities do not want elections to be open to competition. They want to impose their candidate in the presidential palace and do not want these elections to open any horizons for exercising freedoms.

Legislation that restricts freedoms and the continued repression in the first four months of this year was elaborated through several events. The journalist Ihsane El-Kadi is still in prison, serving a seven-year sentence, including five on charges of foreign financing for the purpose of political propaganda. Article 95 bis of the Penal Code punishes anyone who receives money, gifts, or privileges to carry out actions likely to harm the state's security. Although the journalist and his defense confirmed that he did not receive foreign funding and that the amount he is charged for was a donation from his daughter to the foundation, as one of its contributors.

On 29 February 2024, Algerian security forces shut down a panel on "Transitional Justice" at the premises of SOS Disparus in the capital, Algiers.

Furthermore, despite many calls to release more than 228 prisoners of conscience, the government still denies their existence and says they are public rights prisoners prosecuted under the Penal Code.

Finally, the government continued to prevent demonstrations denouncing the war on Gaza. The authorities only allowed one demonstration organized by loyal associations and parties, banning all others. Many observers saw the issue as an expression of the government's continued fear of the return to popular movement marches that toppled President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, which were suppressed after demanding the total transformation of the governance system.

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