Algerian riot police invade court to attack judges!

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Police in Algeria attack a sit-in of trade unionists at the offices of the National Union for Electricity and Gas Workers (SNATEG)

Algerian riot police clashed with judges participating in a nationwide strike on Sunday in the north-western port city of Oran.

The judges are pushing for the independence of the judiciary after an unprecedented mass reshuffle by the justice ministry in October that affected thousands of judges.

Officers in riot gear could be seen facing off against a crowd inside a courtroom, in mobile phone footage.

Police were called to the court where the protesting judges had attempted to disrupt a swearing-in session for their pro-government colleagues.

Prominent journalist Khaled Drareni shared photos and a video of the clashes on Twitter.

The National Lawyers’ Union has denounced the use of violence during the incident, calling it ‘a serious attack on the sovereignty of the judiciary’.

The nationwide strike started last month following the state-controlled overhaul of the judiciary, a body expected to oversee elections next month.

Presidential elections have been called for 12 December, but protesters are continuing to demand political reform in the country following the removal of long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April.

The rising repression in Algeria has sparked an international campaign in defence of political prisoners.

Trade unionists, MPs and activists in Spain, France, Portugal, Peru, Brazil, South Africa and Germany gathered outside Algerian embassies in September to condemn the arrest and sentencing of Louisa Hanoune, general secretary of the Workers Party and other political prisoners.

The regime in Algeria has hit back hard at opponents as it tries to contain the mass movement for democracy which erupted earlier this year and is still bringing tens of thousands onto the streets.

On 8th October the 33rd students’ march in Algiers was brutally attacked by police, anti-riot and plain clothes police, with dozens of arrests of students, passers-by and journalists.

Most have been released, but some have been charged with ‘unarmed assembly, disobedience and breach of public order’.

Karim Tabbou, a national leader of the Democratic and Social Union party, is one of the major opposition leaders arrested in September, while Louisa Hanoune, has been condemned to fifteen years in prison in a trial by a military court.

Elected members of provincial parliaments, political activists and protesters have been seized by the police for carrying the Amazigh (Berber) flag on demonstrations.

Over 100 protesters remain in custody, most in Algiers.

Some are under investigation for ‘harming the integrity of the national territory,’ which carries sentences of up to 10 years in prison.

They include Samira Messouci, elected to the provincial assembly of Tizi-Ouzou and an activist in the RCD (Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Démocratie), who was arrested on the 21 June demonstration for being in possession of the Berber flag.

Karim Tabbou was arrested on 12 September for ‘undermining the morale of the troops’ of the army, according to the article 75 of the Penal Code.

He was arrested without warrant or explanation. Tabbou recently took part in a conference which called for the rejection of the upcoming presidential elections.

Elected members of provincial parliaments, political activists and protesters have been seized by the police

On 30 June police arrested 87-year old Lakhdar Bouregaa, one of the few surviving commanders of Algeria’s war of independence, four days after he said at a public meeting that Algeria’s army is a collection of ‘militias’.

He is being investigated for ‘weakening the morale of the troops,’ which could lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Bouregaa is a founder of the opposition Socialist Forces Front party and was a political prisoner in the 1970s under President Houari Boumedienne.

Louisa Hanoune, general secretary of the PT (Workers Party) since 1990, was arrested on 9th May after being summoned to the military court as a witness during the investigation of two ex-intelligence chiefs and Saïd Bouteflika, younger brother of the ousted president.

She was charged with ‘conspiring against the state and the army’ and held in solitary confinement before being sentenced to a fifteen year jail sentence on 24 September.

In a statement, the Workers Party called her trial a ‘judicial farce riddled with lies. Louisa Hanoune has been condemned in order to terrorise and try to silence all the voices that oppose those in de facto power. The same goes for Lakhdar Bouregaa, Samira Messouci, Samir Benlarbi, Foudil Moumala and dozens of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.’

Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of the capital Algiers, joining millions all over the country in mass protests on Friday 11 October.

Demonstrators were opposing the old regime’s attempt to hold presidential elections in December without changing the political status quo.

They continue to demand a civil, not a military state, and reject selling off the nation’s resources through a new financial law and hydrocarbon law which, if approved by parliament, will mean a big blow to Algeria’s economic sovereignty.

In May this year, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) undertook a high-level mission to Algeria in response to systematic violations of basic trade union rights by the government over many years, violations repeatedly highlighted by the ILO’s governing bodies.

Since then, attacks on the independent trade union movement have intensified as the authorities crack down on the democracy movement, in which the independent unions have played a prominent role.

On October 4th, the IUF (International Union of Foodworkers), together with its sister unions and the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) called on the ILO Director General to intervene with the Algerian authorities to ‘ensure full legal and physical protection for all those seeking to exercise their right to freedom of association in an environment free from violence, harassment and threats.’

Among other demands, the letter called for the immediate and unconditional release ‘of all those detained for their civic and trade union engagement’.

Weekly mass protests, strikes and demonstrations for democracy have continued since the military pulled the plug on life support for the Bouteflika presidency in March.

The armed forces, headed by Lieutenant General Gaid Salah, now call the shots as they hide behind an illegitimate ‘interim President’ and seek to manipulate elections announced for December.

In recent months over 100 trade unionists, civic and political activists have been arrested, interrogated and detained or jailed for ‘defaming the armed forces’ and ‘threatening the unity of the country’.

The President and General Secretary of the IUF-affiliated SNATEG (National Union for Electricity and Gas Workers) face a new round of punitive lawsuits which could result in years of imprisonment.

The IUF affiliates in Algeria, the SNAPAP public service workers union and SNATEG, have put themselves in the line of fire by demonstrating full solidarity with all those persecuted and victimised for their democratic engagement – journalists, political activists, rights defenders, students and of course their fellow trade unionists.

Leaders of IndustriALL Global Union’s trade union affiliate in Algeria, SNATEG, anticipate they will be imprisoned any day, as the more than a hundred activists, journalists and political opponents have been detained in Algeria in recent months.

The military has extended its control on virtually every area of society in Algeria after the ailing 82-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was forced to stand down in April following mass protests.

The arrests are an attempt to crush independent unions and the civil society movement for democracy in Algeria. Internet access is restricted to stop protesters communicating and organising rallies, while social media has been flooded with fake news and electronic trolls targeting the protest movement.

IndustriALL Global Union general secretary, Valter Sanches, said: ‘We call on the Algerian government to immediately release the political prisoners and drop all charges against trade unionists.

‘Trade union rights have become virtually non-existent in Algeria. The government must stop the harassment of trade unionists, and guarantee the right to freedom of association, free from violence and threats.’