Algeria arrests eight people over ‘foreign-funded’ protest-linked group

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Algerian security services said Tuesday they had arrested eight people linked to the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement over an allegedly foreign-financed criminal association.

“The security services arrested a criminal organization of eight people aged from 26 to 60 operating under the guise of an unauthorized cultural association in Bab El Oued,” the Directorate General for National Security said in a statement, referring to a working-class district of Algiers.

It said the group had acquired technological equipment through “financing from a large foreign country’s diplomatic representation in Algiers,” without identifying the organization or the country allegedly involved.

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The funds were received “under the guise of cultural activities,” it said, adding that authorities seized “677 banners, seven computers, an ultra-modern digital camera, three scanners and 12 printers.”

The financing had allowed the group to “produce provocative films and documents” and “pamphlets urging violence” during weekly Hirak demonstrations, the statement said.

Without identifying a link between the events, a prisoners’ rights group said several activists from the SOS Bab El Oued association, including its president Nacer Maghnine, appeared in the Bab El Oued court on Tuesday, after being arrested Friday during a Hirak demonstration in Algiers.

The Hirak protests were sparked in February 2019 over then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing strongman was forced to step down weeks later, but the protesters have not given up their demands for the overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.

Since the movement’s second anniversary in February, thousands have continued to defy a ban on gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic and taken to the streets for weekly protests, which were suspended for almost a year due to the health crisis.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune this month warned Hirak activists of “non-innocent activities” that “attempt to hinder the democratic process.”

Tebboune has called early elections for June 12 in an attempt to respond to Algeria’s political and socio-economic crisis, but Hirak supporters have denounced the vote as a “masquerade.” Authorities say the movement is being infiltrated by “Islamist” activists who are trying to drag it towards violence.

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