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Algeria using COVID-19 to quash anti-government protests

Security forces surround demonstrators in Algiers, Algeria on 8 on December 2019 [RYAD KRAMDI/AFP/Getty Images]
Security forces surround demonstrators in Algiers, Algeria on 8 on December 2019 [RYAD KRAMDI/AFP/Getty Images]

Analysts believe that the Algerian authorities are using the COVID-19 pandemic to eradicate the popular protest movement, which led to the ousting of long-term dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year.

Authorities have intensified arrests against dissidents, independent journalists and young bloggers since the start of the coronavirus crisis, which coincided with the weekly demonstrations.

In parallel, the hasty ratification of a law criminalising the dissemination of fake news and another legislation that outlaws hate speech on  social media platforms have raised concerns about an attempt to restrict freedom of expression, especially since such laws usually target political and social opinions.

Journalist Akram Belkaid, in his column for Le Quotidien d’Oran, criticised the return to “the regime with an iron fist”, which is the same thing that happened during the 1970s when all Algerians were forced to remain silent and obey the orders.

READ: Algeria eases coronavirus restrictions, allows businesses to reopen

Karima Derrich, Historian specialized in the History of the Maghreb, said: “This pandemic came as a blessing for the ruling regime, which is seizing this insolent opportunity. The quarantine period also paved the way for the police and the legislative authority to harass people.”

Derrich noted that “this explains dozens of arrests against well-known personalities and citizens in all Algerian cities,” adding that “the arrests and sentences prove once again that the judiciary is completely subjugated by the executive branch.”

“We find ourselves in a situation where the regime is gaining momentum, supported by the cessation of demonstrations caused by the pandemic, in the absence of an alternative, reassuring and clear vision,” wrote Algerian writer Kamel Daoud recently in the Swiss newspaper, Le Temps.

Daoud pointed out that “there is more than one regime. There are rather different regimes competing internally.  Some want real reforms, while others want more rigorous censorship measures.”

The regime has been weakened not only by the popular movement and the ongoing health crisis, but also by the drop in fuel prices, which may lead to serious economic crisis in a country that is heavily dependent on oil revenues.

READ: Algeria prosecutes and imprisons ‘fake news promoters’

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AfricaAlgeriaCoronavirusNews
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