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Algerian rights activists sentenced to prison

(ANHRI/IFEX) - 4 February 2013 - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounces the prison sentences and fines issued to activists and protesters who participated in a demonstration that erupted as a result of the rising percentage of unemployment and the declining rate of economic development in the province of Ouargla in eastern Algeria.

The Ouargla court in Algeria sentenced activist Taher Bela'bas, the national coordinator of the committee for the defense of the rights of the unemployed, to prison for a month and handed him a fine of 50 thousands dinars (€500). He was charged with "unarmed assembly" referring to a sit-in he organised with some colleagues on 2 January 2013 in front of the employment agency (Ministry of Employment) whereby they called on the government to employ the protesters in the province's petroleum companies as Ouargla is known for having the biggest oil fields in Algeria.

In the same court hearing, two activists, Khaled Dawi and Ali Ghabshi, were sentenced to two months' imprisonment and fines of 50 thousands dinars (€500) each.

The hearing took place on 20 January 2013 in the midst of a huge demonstration calling for the acquittal of all defendants. Bela'bas was mentioned during the demonstration by his defense team that noted Bela'bas will be free until all appeals have been exhausted and the final judgment against him is made.

"The prosecution of human rights activists for exercising their natural right to peacefully protest is a deliberate undermining of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in all international treaties to which all countries are bound. Such prosecutions are a political strategy used by the judiciary to repress the opponents of the regime and harass them, stripping the regime of their democratic legitimacy,” said ANHRI.

The organisation added that “the intimidation policy that is being adopted by the Algerian authorities to suppress the right to free expression and silence the protesters' calls for a decent life, is a useless policy and will only further help the protests to escalate and increase in violence."

"The authorities should recall Farouk Qstantini's statements, Chairman of the Consultative Committee for Human Rights," said ANHRI, "as he mentioned that the human rights record in Algeria is improving, even if just slowly, however most of these events indicate that the record is experiencing setbacks instead and keeps moving backwards."

ANHRI calls on the government to drop all charges pressed against the activists, to release them and to stop all legal prosecutions of these individuals for exercising their natural rights in the peaceful protest.

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