Algeria jails opposition activist Chems Eddine Laalami for two years

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An Algerian court on Sunday jailed for two years Chems Eddine Laalami, a leading figure from the pro-democracy Hirak protest movement, a rights group said.

Also known as Brahim, 30-year-old Laalami was arrested in late June by the Algerian coastguard as he attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Spain in a migrant boat.

There were two cases against him, one for “hate speech, contempt of institutions and fake news” and another for “incitement to an unarmed gathering”, said the CNLD prisoners’ rights group.

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Laalami, a tailor, shot 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 peaceful popular uprising erupted soon after in the capital and other major cities of the North African country, forcing Bouteflika to resign in April that year.

Laalami, also known as Brahim, has since been arrested several times and convicted in a number of trials.

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

“Young people are slipping back into disillusionment and despair after a moment of hope sparked by Hirak,” said Said Salhi, vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH).

Many were fleeing the country and burning their identity papers on arrival at their destination to avoid being sent back, an act known as “harraga” in Arabic, he added.

Determined to break up the Hirak protest movement, the government has banned its 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, according to the CNLD.

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