Algerian Opposition Activist, Laalami, Bags 2-Year Jail Term

An Algerian court has jailed a leading figure from the pro-democracy Hirak protest movement, Chems Laalami, for two years.

Laalami, a clothier, rose to prominence in February 2019 when he demonstrated in Bordj Bou Arreridj near Algiers to denounce then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term.

A popular uprising soon erupted in the capital and other major cities of the North African country, forcing Bouteflika to resign in April that year.

Laalami has since been arrested several times and convicted in a number of trials.

This time, 30-year-old Laalami was arrested at sea in late June by the country’s coastguard while crossing the Mediterranean in a migrant boat to Spain.

He has had cases of “hate speech, contempt of institutions, fake news” and “incitement to an unarmed gathering,” against him.

He had already been sentenced to three months for attempting to flee to Spain.

Said Salhi, the vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) notes young people are now slipping back into disillusionment and despair after a moment of hope sparked by Hirak. 

He adds that many who fled the country have burnt their identity papers on arrival at their destination to avoid being sent back, an act known as “harraga”.

Determined to break up the Hirak protest movement, the government has banned demonstrations and stepped up legal proceedings against opponents, activists, journalists and academics.

Around 300 people are currently behind bars on charges related to the Hirak.

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