Fears of new crackdown in Algeria

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An Algerian appeals court upheld conviction of a journalist in what rights campaigners called a new crackdown on dissent aimed at preventing revival of mass protests that toppled veteran ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year.

The Hirak popular protest movement brought thousands of Algerians to the streets for weekly demonstrations, which continued after Bouteflika quit and a new president was elected in December.

A judicial source and a rights group defending detainees said the appeals court upheld the conviction of journalist Khaled Drareni on charges which include threatening national unity and “inciting unarmed gatherings”.

His sentence was reduced to two from a three year term imposed by a lower court last month.

Mass demonstrations in Algeria lasted more than a year until they were halted in March by a coronavirus lockdown. Some campaigners plan to return to the streets when the lockdown is lifted.

They demand the military-backed ruling elite give way to a new generation of leadership.

Drareni has been in detention since his arrest in March after he attended demonstrations.

The court in Algiers confirmed four-month prison sentences for two other activists in the protest movement, Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, for inciting unarmed gatherings, the source and the National Committee for the Release of Detainees said.

“These sentences underline a broader crackdown on freedoms in the country and confirm a pattern of prosecutions targeting journalists and activists who call for more democracy and respect for the rule of law in Algeria,” rights watchdog Amnesty International said in a statement.