Covid-19 in Algeria
Closure of critical media, restrictions on freedom of the press (Press Release)
The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has accused Algeria's government of using the Covid-19 pandemic to justify the ongoing persecution of the democracy movement and the restrictions on the freedom of the press. "President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has repeatedly used Covid-19 as a pretext to stifle criticism," explained Ulrich Delius, the STP's Director, in Göttingen on Tuesday. After taking office in December 2019, Tebboune had announced a few reforms – but he is now taking advantage of the pandemic to try and crush the democracy movement.
Instead of emptying the prisons to protect inmates and staff from the virus, there are new political prisoners almost every day. Further, the STP strongly criticized that, over the last ten days, the government closed down three critical radio stations and news portals. "We demand the immediate release of the political prisoners in Algeria, as a massive spread of the virus is likely to occur in the prisons. Also, the media must be allowed to work freely again. In these times, independent information is more important than ever before," Delius emphasized. The STP also criticized the European Union for not commenting on the increasing persecution of the democracy movement Hirak and the restrictions on the freedom of the press.
At the beginning of April, following the death of a prisoner, Algeria released 5,000 prisoners out of concern about a further spread of the virus. However, political prisoners were not included in the amnesty. There are at least 51 people who were imprisoned for supporting Hirak. The healthcare situation is catastrophic, not only in the prisons. With 384 deaths caused by the virus, Algeria is considered the country most affected by the pandemic in Africa. Due to a strict curfew, the Hirak movement had to suspend its public protests (which, in April 2019, had led to the overthrow of long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika).
One of the political prisoners is the journalist Sofiane Merakchi. On April 5, 2020, he was sentenced to eight months in prison for allegedly having passed on footage of Hirak protests to the TV station Al-Jazeerah. The public prosecutor's office had even requested two years in prison and a heavy fine. Another prisoner is Khaled Drareni, correspondent of the French television channel TV5 Monde, who had allegedly called for public protests and threatened state security. Last Sunday, the authorities closed down the online news portal Interlignes, after two radio stations had already been forced to shut down a few days before.