A court in Algeria sentenced 21 protesters to six months in jail for “undermining national unity”, official media reported, a month ahead of a presidential election.
The verdict by the central Algiers court included additional six month suspended sentences for the protesters, arrested for raising a flag symbolising the country’s Berber minority, state news agency APS said.
Berbers, especially in Kabylie region, sought more rights to promote their culture and language. Their yellow, red and blue flag is banned as threatening national unity.
During the early stages of weekly mass protests starting in February, some demonstrators waved the flag alongside the national one. Police arrest them for this during the summer and the Berber flag is no longer seen at the marches.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on April 2 with protesters continued demanding removal of the ruling elite and prosecution of people suspected of involvement in corruption.
The army is now the main player in Algeria’s politics and its chief of staff, Ahmed Gaed Salah, pushed for an election and supports the detention of former officials on graft charges.
Gaed Salah also warned against raising the Berber flag, saying it is a threat to national unity. The country’s constitution recognises the Berber language, Amazigh, along with Arabic.
The Algiers court on Tuesday delayed issuing verdicts against 20 other protesters facing the same charges, including 11 arrested, until November 18.
Protesters reject the December 12 presidential election, saying it will not be fair as some of the old guard, including interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui, are still in power.