Demonstrators brave coronavirus threat amid crackdown on pro-democracy activists

Large pro-democracy protests took place again throughout Algeria for the 56th Friday in a row amid an increase in arrests.

Friday, in Algiers, despite several arrests shortly before the start of the demonstration, Algerians braved the threat posed by the coronavirus to reiterate their call for a democratic transition, chanting at times “you do not scare us with the corona, we were brought up in misery”. Demonstrators also denounced the president’s, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, illegitimacy. It should be recalled that Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s appointment by the army as the civilian facade to a military junta did not have the regime-hoped impact on the protests, with demonstrators now attempting to occupy the streets on Saturdays, in addition to Tuesdays and Fridays.

In contrast, for the fourth Saturday in a row, the authorities have adopted a heavy-handed approach towards public gatherings with reports of police officers, chasing demonstrators across the city’s centre, beating and arresting bypassers while using profanity to intimidate the men, women, children and elderly who came out. By mid-afternoon, the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), a collective that monitors the situation of political detainees, identified over a hundred arrests.

Early in the morning, an important security apparatus had been deployed in the centre of the capital. When dozens of demonstrators tried to start the march in the early afternoon, the police charged at them violently, arresting many, including journalists.

Among the arrestees was a prominent journalist, Khaled Drareni, arrested for a second time while covering Saturday’s marches. In a first instance, Khaled Drareni was arrested on the 7th of March and held in custody for three days on the widely ridiculed charge of “compromising national unity”. Yesterday Khaled Drareni was arrested again only to be released eight hours later. Three other journalists, arrested yesterday, Saturday 14th, namely Samira Mouaki, Zahra Cheikh, and Khaled Hassan, as part of a group consisting of 27 demonstrators arrested since Friday. They are due to be brought before the court of Sidi M’hamed today, Sunday 15th.

The FFS, an opposition party, denounced in a press release a “police raid which aims to create a climate of fear and resignation among the valiant rebellious people” while demanding an “immediate stop to these despotic practices and the release of the victims of this new punitive decent”. The party recommended to its activists and to all citizens to “preserve the peaceful character of these demonstrations and not to bite the bait of provocation”.

One demonstrator told our reporter “we’d rather die of the Coronavirus than continue to live under a treacherous regime”. In contrast, another demonstrator told our reporter “we should take a pause, this Corona thing is spreading fast, plus the Hirak could use a break to come back stronger once things have settled down”. For Zakaria, a student, the blame lies with the regime for its incompetence in handling the crisis “we don’t have any functioning hospitals, our hospitals are themselves health hazards, we don’t have enough test kits yet this regime has maintained flights to and from China, Italy, France and Spain”.

Flights from Spain, Italy, France and the U.K continued to arrive as of the 15th of March.

In the country, many suspect the regime is intentionally hiding the true level of contamination. Whether the regime is intentionally misleading the public or not remains to be verified, but such allegations clearly highlight the lack of trust between the population and a corrupt regime that has outstayed its welcome.