Interview with Mustapha Bouchachi, chairman of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH), on the situation in Algeria.

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FIDH: What was the context for the LADDH’s call to demonstrate on Saturday 12 February?

Mustapha Bouchachi: Following the riots in Algiers last January, the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights decided to launch an appeal to civil society to stand alongside young people, born under the state of emergency. The League launched this appeal as part of a movement – the National Coordination for Change and Democracy – made up of human rights’ organisations, young people, unions and political parties.

The march had been banned by the authorities who had instead offered a meeting room! The demonstration was severely repressed: more than 300 people, including journalists and MPs, were arrested and around ten people injured. The Coordination movement has nonetheless decided to go ahead with its future marches.

FIDH: What are the movement’s demands?

Mustapha Bouchachi: The League does not intend to play a political role, but starts from the premise that human rights cannot be respected without democracy and an independent justice system. We are therefore calling for the opening up of politics and the media to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy. We are also calling for those young people arrested during the social unrest last January to be freed and for the state of emergency to be lifted.

FIDH: How is the mobilisation going?

Mustapha Bouchachi: You have to realise that the Algerian population is one that has been ravaged by civil war. During these marches, people are deeply afraid. Some time is needed for Algerians to begin actively campaigning. We live, moreover, in an extremely divided society which makes the task even more difficult.

FIDH: What is the Algerian government’s attitude?

Mustapha Bouchachi: It’s a government that has money and that can buy social peace to survive a bit longer. The government is distributing money via, for example, associations whose remit is to work with young people, to help them and to find them work. Even though there is really no work to be had. The government is also issuing statements, such as the one about creating 3 million jobs. It has also announced the allocation of thousands homes in the coming months. In addition, the police have been asked to stop applying the Highway Code and state prosecutors to stop implementing court decisions. They’re buying people’s silence.

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