Thousands of Algerians took part in demonstrations to commemorate the second anniversary of the Hirak protests in the town of Kherrata on Tuesday, February 16. The landmark Hirak protests led to the overthrow of the then Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2019. The demonstrations on Tuesday took place despite the COVID-19-related restrictions and in defiance of a government ban on protests.
The demonstrations in Kherrata, approximately 300 km east of the capital, Algiers, saw the protesters waving Algerian and Berber flags and shouting slogans such as “A civilian state, not a military state” and “The gang must go.” The town of Kherrata holds special significance as the first protests took place here on February 16, 2019. They broke out after Bouteflika announced that he would seek a fifth term as Algerian president despite being in power for almost 30 years. The protests eventually grew and spread all over the country, forcing him to withdraw his candidature and ultimately resign as president.
Even after Bouteflika’s exit, the protests continued since many of the ministers, officials, politicians and other members of the political, military and business elite belonging to the Bouteflika-era continued to hold powerful posts or wield influence over the country’s political and administrative affairs. The Hirak protesters demanded the complete removal of the political and business elite with ties to the previous regime from politics and government in the country. They also demanded that the Algerian military stop interfering in the affairs of the country. A key target has been the current government and president Abdelmadjid Tebboune who the protesters perceive as being corrupt, inefficient and incapable of fulfilling their demands or solving problems, such as poverty, unemployment and widespread corruption
The widespread protests went on for almost a year before declining in strength due to COVID-19 restrictions. The demonstrations have been met with a systematic, brutal crackdown. The country’s judiciary was also used to target and persecute activists, journalists, bloggers, lawyers and opposition figures. Many of them faced lengthy trials and in some cases, were sentenced to years in prison. According to the National Commission for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), an estimated 70 Algerians are still being detained in prison only because they are either members or supporters of the Hirak protests or some other group or political party which is in opposition to the government.