Home News Algeria: Opposition leader Karim Tabbou given six-month suspended sentence | Human Rights News

Algeria: Opposition leader Karim Tabbou given six-month suspended sentence | Human Rights News

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Algeria: Opposition leader Karim Tabbou given six-month suspended sentence | Human Rights News

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An Algerian court has issued a six-month suspended sentence and a 50,000 dinars ($372) fine to the prominent democracy activist Karim Tabbou, according to a local rights group.

One Algerian activist, who did not disclose his name for fear of reprisal, said that the wording of the sentence indicates that Tabbou will not serve jail time. However, observers see the sentence, handed down on Wednesday, as part of a broader campaign of harassment and arrest against activists from Algeria’s pro-democracy Hirak movement.

According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees, Tabbou was convicted of “incitement to unarmed assembly”, “insulting a civil servant” and “defamation”.

Tabbou, 49, became one of the most well-known activists to emerge out of Hirak when antigovernment demonstrations erupted in February 2019.

But while Hirak eventually led to the overthrow of longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, protesters were not satisfied. Many protesters continued to demand, unsuccessfully, the resignation of all figures affiliated with Bouteflika’s government and the removal of the military from all civil affairs.

Tabbou was acquitted of other charges, including “disrespecting the dead” and “undermining the integrity of national territory”.

Previously, in 2020, Tabbou received a one-year suspended sentence after being convicted of “undermining national security”, as a result of a video he posted online that criticised the army’s control of public and political affairs.

After being released on probation in 2021, Tabbou said that “Algeria’s youth are determined to fight for their right to a dignified life.”

Crackdown on dissent

According to an Amnesty International report published in May 2022,at least 266 activists and protesters from the Hirak movement were imprisoned. Most were jailed for criticising authorities, denouncing state corruption and voicing solidarity with political detainees.

The crackdown on dissent continued throughout 2023.

Journalists have not been spared, with Amnesty reporting last September that 12 were behind bars. One of the most prominent political prisoners is Ihsane el-Kadi, a well-known independent political journalist. He is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence, two of which are suspended, after being detained under a state security law.

“Algerian authorities are engaged in an unrelenting assault on independent media and all critical voices,” Amnesty said. “It typically uses bogus charges such as “spreading fake news” and “offending” public officials”.

An Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson declined to comment on reports of human rights violations in the country when contacted by Al Jazeera.

Where is Hirak now?

Tabbou’s sentencing highlighted many of the challenges facing the Hirak movement in Algeria.

Many scholars and activists have argued that the movement has practically died out due to measures that the government adopted to crush Hirak, including outlawing any association from receiving foreign funds without authorisation, as well as expanding antiterrorism legislation.

The government has also been accused of attempting to co-opt political parties that supported the movement to divide and stamp out the momentum of the protests.

For his part, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has previously insinuated that Hirak activists could carry out “non-innocent activities” that “attempt to hinder the democratic process”.

An Algerian activist, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, added that the government has also “bought” social peace, by giving out stipends of money to unemployed youth.

Algeria has become an indispensable supplier of natural gas to European countries looking to reduce their dependence on Russia after the latter invaded Ukraine. But if revenue dips, Algeria may have to suspend or reduce its cash handouts to young unemployed people across the country, potentially leading to another outbreak of widespread unrest.

“Although I think there is some energy there for another social movement, I just don’t think it will be anytime soon. It won’t happen for as long as the government has money to buy social peace,” the activist said. “But if there were to be a social uprising at some point in the future, then I think it might be more about declining living standards than it would be about democracy.”

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