A court in Algiers in Algeria on Thursday, October 8, sentenced well known Hirak movement member, Yacine Mebarki, to 10 years in prison along with a steep fine of USD 77,000. Mebarki was sentenced after being accused of charges such as ‘inciting atheism’, ‘offending or denigrating the dogma and precepts of Islam’ and ‘undermining national unity’ in the trial which began on October 6. Along with Mebarki, journalist-activist Fodil Boumala also faces the prospect of being sentenced to two years in prison and paying a fine of $700 after the prosecutor’s office in Algiers appealed for the same to the court.
The Hirak protests, which began in February 2019, played a key role in the overthrow of long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April that year. The movement has continued with the demand for structural change and the removal of all those who were part of the president’s regime.
In recent months, the crackdown on Hirak protesters and their supporters, as well as journalists, has increased. El Kadi Ihsane, a journalist, was summoned by the authorities for ‘preliminary investigations’ this week. Ihsane, the director of independent media organizations such as Radio.info and Maghreb Emergent, has been accused by the Algerian authorities of ‘defamation’ and offenses against the president of Algeria. Another journalist who was recently sentenced to a prison term of two years, Abdelkrim Zeghileche, has been convicted again in a new case in the eastern Algerian city of Constantine and fined $774.
Zeghileche was sentenced in August on charges such as ‘undermining national unity’ and ‘subverting the personality of the president of the republic’. Another journalist, Khaled Drareni, was sentenced to three years in prison the same month on similar vague charges including ‘inciting an armed gathering’ and ‘endangering national unity’ but had his prison sentence reduced by one year in September.
The government of Abdelmajid Tebboune, which took office in December 2019, initially did promise to listen to the demands of the protesters. However, it has continued with the repression. Hundreds of Algerians are being arrested, imprisoned and detained under trumped up charges, have had their places of work attacked, searched and ransacked and their property confiscated, threatened with reprisals and severe punishments. The National Commission of Liberation of Detainees has said that as of October 6, 74 ‘prisoners of conscience’ are being indefinitely held in detention by Algerian authorities, many of them currently still awaiting trial.