Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. Independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and significant funding of public-sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.
Freedom of Expression: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists were limited in their ability to criticize the government on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, including the use of the Berber flag during protests, and citizens practiced self-censorship in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech regarding security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government stated there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.
Authorities have summoned, arrested, and prosecuted journalist Mustapha Bendjama in at least six different cases for charges such as “offense to public bodies” and “undermining national unity.” On June 27, the court in Annaba convicted Bendjama, and the judge sentenced him to two months in prison and 2,500 dinars ($19) fine.
Police arrested former parliamentarian Nordine Ait-Hamouda on June 26 in Bejaia for making “inappropriate statements towards various important national figures.” On August 29, authorities released Ait-Hamouda from El-Harrach prison after two months of incarceration. The Court of Ruisseau in Algiers granted Ait-Hamouda’s provisional release, pending the completion of the investigation and determination of the trial date.
On June 30, security personnel arrested Fethi Ghares, national coordinator of the opposition party Democratic and Social Movement and searched his home. His wife, Messaouda Cheballah, posted a live video of her husband’s arrest and denounced the police’s “indiscreet search of her belongings.”
NGOs reported in 2020 that they stopped holding events outside private locations due to longstanding government suppression and pressure on owners of public gathering spaces.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controlled public advertising for print media, and most daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Press outlets reported taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials due to fear of losing revenue from ANEP. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. ANEP stated its support for a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers.
In April 2020 parliament adopted amendments to the penal code that criminalize spreading “false news” that harms national unity. Penalties for convictions under the bill, which does not distinguish among news reports, social media, and other media, include prison terms of two to five years and fines. Civil society groups reported that the amendments gave authorities excessive power to prosecute activists and human rights defenders.
On May 10, authorities found journalist Khellaf Benhedda guilty in absentia and fined him 100,000 dinars ($750) for an “offense to the President.”
On May 14, police arrested Maghreb Emergent journalist Kenza Khatto during a Hirak march in Algiers on charges of “incitement to unarmed gathering,” “contempt of police,” and “noncompliance with the instruction of the wali (governor) of Algiers on the ban of marches.”
On May 18, authorities placed journalist El Kadi Ihsane, director of Radio M and Maghreb Emergent websites, on probation. The judge issued a travel ban and confiscated Ihsane’s passport. According to Radio M, authorities charged Ihsane with “undermining national security and territorial unity” and “sharing publications undermining national interest.” The CNLD said the charges emanated from a complaint filed by the Minister of Communication Ammar Belhimer.
On September 6, authorities arrested Hassan Bourras at his home in El Bayadh and charged him with “belonging to a terrorist organization,” “conspiracy against the security of the State to change the system of governance,” and “use of technical and media tools to enlist individuals against the authority of the State.” Bourras is a well known human rights’ activist with the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH). According to the CNLD, authorities transferred Bourras on September 12 to a court in Algiers, which ordered him into pretrial detention.
On September 12, police arrested Mohamed Mouloudj, a reporter for Liberte, and raided his home. On September 14, the Sidi M’hamed Court in Algiers placed Mouloudj in custody and charged him with spreading false news, harming national unity, and belonging to a terrorist group. The court placed him in pretrial detention which was ongoing at year end.
Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio stations. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration regarding the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. Except for several daily newspapers, most print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.
Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.
The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the ministry did not accredit most foreign media. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”
The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation from the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV) for criticism of the government. According to state-run Algerie Presse Service (APS), in March, Algerian authorities warned France 24 to tone down its “biased Hirak coverage.”
On June 13, Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer cancelled France 24’s accreditation for its “clear and repeated hostility towards our country and its institutions.” Upon the withdrawal of France 24’s accreditation, several foreign news outlets said all journalists in Algeria – both foreign and local – faced bureaucratic hurdles and must navigate murky procedural processes to operate.
In June the ARAV suspended El Hayet TV for one week after it broadcast an interview with Nordine Ait Hamouda, the founding member of the opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy and son of independence war hero Colonel Amirouche Ait Hamouda. During the interview, Nordine Ait Hamouda called several Algerian historical figures “traitors.” The interview prompted the Ministry of Communication to summon El Hayet TV director Habet Hannachi to the ARAV headquarters to explain his decision to broadcast the controversial interview. On June 26, authorities arrested Ait Hamouda and placed him in pretrial detention, although authorities granted his provisional release on August 29 pending trial on charges of “attacking symbols of the nation and the revolution.”
On July 31, the ARAV withdrew the accreditation of Saudi-funded al-Arabiya TV for “propagating misinformation.” In a statement the Ministry of Communication stated al-Arabiya failed to “respect the rules of professional ethics and practiced media misinformation and manipulation.”
On August 16, the Ministry of Communication announced “the immediate and final closure” of the private television channel Lina TV at the request of the ARAV. Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer stated the ARAV had previously warned Lina TV for its “noncompliance with ethical principles.” Belhimer characterized the channel as a “danger to national unity.” The Ministry added that Lina TV did not have the required accreditation to operate.
On August 23, the Ministry of Communication suspended the private progovernment television channel El Bilad TV for one week. The ARAV based its decision on “noncompliance with the requirements of public order” and due to legal proceedings against Ayoub Aissiou, a station shareholder who also owns El Djazairia One. The government accused Aissiou of violating the law on broadcast activity, which forbids holding shares in more than one television station.
On August 23, the Ministry of Communication shut down the private television channel El Djazairia One, after the ARAV recommended its immediate closure. On August 24, officials at the ARAV said El Djazairia One’s owners violated the law on audiovisual activity by purchasing shares in more than one television channel. The station’s owners, brothers Ayoub and Tayeb Aissiou, were close associates of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Bouteflika-era prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia.
On August 24, the ARAV censured state-run EPTV after one of its reporters said the suspects arrested for lynching Djamel Bensmail were charged with belonging to a “terrorist region” instead of a “terrorist organization.” The ARAV stated this was “an unforgivable breach,” prompting EPTV to apologize and discipline the reporter.
Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and stated the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but a serious misdemeanor that carries a fine. The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.
The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”
The government monitored certain email and social media sites.
Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.
There was some disruption of communication prior to planned antigovernment demonstrations during the year, namely internet shutdowns, the blocking of access to certain online news sites and social media platforms, and the restricting or censorship of content. When the Hirak protests resumed in February, parts of the country experienced internet outages during the demonstrations.
The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of internet service providers (ISPs) to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.
By law ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.
For a fifth year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school examinations. The decision was in response to previous leaks of examination materials, which were posted on social media.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for all religious publications. The law gives authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”
Importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After deciding, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.
A 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious and public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.
On April 23, authorities sentenced Sufi Muslim academic Said Djabelkheir to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars ($375) for “offense to the precepts of Islam,” based on his personal Facebook account publications regarding Islamic rituals and theology. Djabelkheir wrote that the sacrifice of sheep predates Islam and denounced child marriage. He said authorities did not inform him or his lawyers ahead of the court proceedings. Djabelkheir appealed the conviction and was free on bail pending the appeal.
Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of these rights.
In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” Citing the threat of terrorism, the government prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi.
Foreign Travel: The constitution states that citizens have the right to enter and exit the country. The law does not permit those younger than 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women younger than 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women older than 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.
The government generally cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated 90,000 migrants enter the country annually, and the Ministry of Interior reported approximately 100,000.
According to UNHCR’s September report on refugees in Algeria and Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, there were 7,830 refugees in urban areas, 2,450 asylum seekers in urban areas, and an estimated 90,000 “vulnerable” Sahrawi refugees. The government protected a significant number of refugees in five large refugee camps in Tindouf and ran two other smaller camps near Tindouf, one surrounding a women’s boarding school, and another used for administrative purposes. UNHCR reported many Sahrawi refugees lost their jobs and other sources of income due to COVID-19. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees.
As of September, UNHCR continued registering asylum seekers, determining refugee status, issuing documentation, and advocating for the adoption of legislation to protect persons in need of international protection. Despite the ongoing border closures, asylum applications rose during the year, with 1,570 recorded in the first half of the year, an increase of 20 percent compared with 2020, due to the progressive easing of COVID-19 restrictions. UNHCR monitored and advocated for the release of refugees.
Access to Asylum: While the law generally provides for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. From the beginning of January to June, UNHCR recommended 35 refugees for resettlement to France, Canada, and Sweden, and submitted 41 refugees for resettlement to Canada and Sweden during the same period. UNHCR assisted eight refugees to depart Algeria for family and educational reasons. UNHCR reported the majority of its registered refugees came from Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Mali, and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Mali border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.
In 2019 the National Human Rights Council stated the government had dedicated 1.6 billion dinars ($12 million) to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). Authorities conducted repatriations in coordination with consular officials from the migrants’ countries of origin, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government stated it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed. Air Algerie signed an agreement with the IOM agreeing to provide charter flights for humanitarian supplies and migrants returning voluntarily.
Since January the NGO Alarme Phone Sahara (APS) reported the government deported 18,749 individuals from Algeria to Niger, an increase from 4,722 individuals in 2020. APS reported two types of deportation convoys from Algeria to Niger: official deportation convoys and nonofficial deportation convoys. Official deportations from Algeria to Niger take place pursuant to a 2014 bilateral agreement for the deportation of Nigerien nationals. According to APS, however, Algeria also deports numerous nationals from other countries to Niger in nonofficial convoys, and the Nigerien authorities lacked the power or the will to stop this practice. Convoys also left citizens of various nationalities near Assamaka where they must walk the last 10 to 15 miles into Nigerien territory. APS reported the IOM, Doctors without Borders, and Nigerien security forces looked for deportees lost in the desert. According to APS, deportees includes nationals from Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Togo.
In April the NGO Doctors Without Borders reported that authorities forcibly returned more than 4,000 migrants to Niger. Many migrants travelled on trucks that returned them to Agadez, a Nigerien city that has become a crossroads on the migration route.
On September 29, APS reported that the country deported 894 individuals in a nonofficial convoy to the Assamaka border post.
On October 1, APS reported an additional 1,275 individuals in an official convoy were transported to the Assamaka border post.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported refugees and migrants traversing land routes to and through the country continued to risk death, kidnapping, sexual- and gender-based violence, physical abuse, and other violence.
Employment: The government does not formally allow refugee employment; however, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.
Access to Basic Services: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) near the city of Tindouf. The POLISARIO (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, and partner NGOs provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education. The Algerian government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants being turned away.
School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported some children had trouble integrating into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences. NGOs also indicated that some migrants were denied treatment at health-care facilities.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees have not sought local integration or naturalization during their over 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara. The IOM led an Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program to help migrants return to their homes willingly with economic and social support, including personalized professional training and other socioeconomic assistance. Although the government was not a financial donor to the initiative, it did cooperate.
Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
On March 10, President Tebboune enacted a new electoral law. Typically, new laws must obtain parliamentary approval, but on February 18, Tebboune dissolved parliament’s lower house, thus necessitating the law’s promulgation via decree.
The new law outlines a significant procedural change to the way voters elect members of parliament. Under the previous system, electors voted for a political party’s candidate list rather than for individual candidates, and the candidates on the top of the list would obtain a seat in parliament. The government stated it made the change as part of its efforts to fight corruption. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the electoral law for creating a more complex process for qualifying for the ballot, as well as for establishing an electoral-monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.
Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution to limit the president to two five-year terms. The new 2020 constitution maintains term limits. The National Independent Authority for Elections (ANIE), established in 2019 to replace the High Independent Election Monitoring Body, is responsible for organizing the election and voting processes, monitoring elections, and investigating allegations of irregularities.
Recent Elections: In November 2020 the country held a constitutional referendum. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups. The referendum passed with 66.8 percent support and 23.7 percent turnout, according to the ANIE.
On June 12, the country held legislative elections. Official voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest in the country’s history for a parliamentary election. The vote was the first held under the new electoral law. The new parliament did not have an established opposition party presence, as traditional opposition parties chose to boycott. After the polls closed, Mohamed Charfi, head of the ANIE, announced an “average final turnout rate” of 30.2 percent based on the average turnout percentage in each of the country’s 58 wilayas (states) – not of the percentage of all eligible voters who cast their ballots.
On November 27, the country held local elections and municipal level elections for wilaya (state) and commune-level legislative bodies, plus mayors. The ANIE announced a final turnout rate of 36 percent for municipal elections and 34.9 percent for provincial elections.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.
Opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Occasionally security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize. Since taking office in 2019, Tebboune’s government has blocked foreign funding and pressured media to limit government criticism. The government used COVID-19 restrictions to prevent political opposition meetings; however, the National Liberation Front and the Democratic National Rally continued to meet despite restrictions.
The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in September there were 72 registered political parties, one more than in 2020. Parties must hold a party congress to elect a party leader and confirm membership before the Ministry of Interior counts them as a registered party.
The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration.
Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. By law political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates resources from party members’ domestic contributions, donations, and revenue from party activities, in addition to possible state funding, must be reported to the Ministry of Interior. President Tebboune publicly stated his administration was revising political funding laws and that the new constitution would change campaign finance and funding laws.
On April 22, the Ministry of the Interior initiated legal action against the opposition party Union for Change and Progress (UCP). Authorities alleged that the UCP and its president Zoubida Assoul, who was also a lawyer and political activist, lacked legal status. The UCP denied these accusations and said it followed the law on political parties. On May 2, the Interior Ministry requested that the Council of State temporarily suspend the UCP, pending a legal ruling on its outright dissolution.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.
The electoral law eliminated gender quotas in parliament, and women’s representation in parliament fell from 120 to 34. During the 2017 legislative election campaign, the regulatory election body that preceded the ANIE sent formal notices asking parties and individuals to display candidates’ photos on posters. The ANIE did not require female candidates to use their photos on the campaign posters and ballots for this year’s legislative election for cultural and religious reasons.