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UN Rights Office Condemns Algeria's Crackdown on Pro-Democracy Movement

FILE - Algerian security forces form a human barrier as anti-government protesters take to the streets of the capital Algiers, as the Hirak pro-democracy movement gathers renewed momentum, Feb. 26, 2021.

The U.N. Human Rights Office is condemning Algeria's crackdown on members of the pro-democracy Hirak movement and is calling on the authorities to end its violence against peaceful protesters.

Nationwide street protests have resumed in recent weeks, defying COVID-19 restrictions. U.N. rights officials denounce the violent response by Algerian security forces, who they accuse of using unnecessary or excessive force and arbitrary arrests to suppress peaceful demonstrations.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville says Algerian authorities are reacting to the protesters in the same repressive manner seen in recent years.

FILE - Algerian police officers block protesters from advancing during a demonstration in the capital Algiers, Feb. 22, 2021.
FILE - Algerian police officers block protesters from advancing during a demonstration in the capital Algiers, Feb. 22, 2021.

"These developments echoed what happened earlier in 2019 and 2020, during which a total of at least 2,500 people were arrested or detained in connection with their peaceful activism," he said. "Similarly, the criminal prosecution in 2019 and 2020 of activists, human rights defenders, students, journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens expressing dissent continued during the first two months of this year."

The installation by Algeria's top generals of Abdelmadjid Tebboune as the country's new president in December 2019 sparked widespread outrage and protests by the pro-democracy Hirak movement.

Colville says the Algerian penal code is being used to restrict freedom of expression and to prosecute people for expressing dissenting opinions. He says his office has received credible reports that some 1,000 people have been prosecuted for participating in the Hirak movement or for posting messages online critical of the government.

"According to the same reports, at least 32 people are currently detained for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, and some of them face lengthy sentences, while others are still in pre-trial detention," he said. "We have also received allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention, including sexual violence."

The U.N. human rights office is calling upon Algerian authorities to stop using violence against peaceful protesters and to immediately release all those arbitrarily arrested.

It also is calling for a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention, and to bring those responsible for these crimes to account.