a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and 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; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of a significant proportion of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts 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 believed they were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government said 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.
Press and Media Freedom: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF), private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. Although ANEP said in September that it represented only 15 percent of the total advertising market, nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media. On November 14, Hadda Hazem, the editor of the El Fadjr newspaper, began a hunger strike to protest what she described as government pressure on public and private advertisers to deprive El Fadjr of advertising revenue in retaliation for its criticisms of the government.
Police arrested blogger Merzoug Touati on January 25 on charges stemming from his publication of an interview with a former Israeli diplomat. On September 13, Touati began a hunger strike. He remained in detention at year’s end.
Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties, including legal Islamist 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. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of 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.
In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 249 accredited written publications, down from 332 last year. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated. The ministry said the decline in accredited publications was due to a reduction in advertising revenue.
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 vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. While the government tolerated their operations in the past, the Ministry of Communication said in 2016 it would limit the number of private satellite channels to 13 and foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. At year’s end, however, the government had not shut down any such outlets. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”
The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, 14 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition, six private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels, and two foreign radio stations operated throughout the year.
The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government.
From October 5-November 28, Tout sur l’Algerie (TSA), an online news website, was inaccessible via Algerie Telecom, the state-owned traditional internet service provider (ISP), and via Mobilis, the state-owned mobile ISP. Algerie Telecom did not provide TSA the reasons for the blockage. In October the Ministry of Communication denied any involvement, saying the issue rested with Algerie Telecom. TSA director Hamid Guemache told RSF that the explanations provided by the authorities “are not convincing” and that he suspected a “political blockage.”
Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and said the definitions used as 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 carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($877 to $4,385). 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 Ministry of Communication prohibited the sale of the August issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, a French monthly publication, that contained an article titled “Forbidden Memory in Algeria” about the aftermath of the internal conflict in the 1990s. The ministry said the article’s discussion of President Bouteflika’s health was injurious to the president and stated the publication did not appeal the decision.
The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.” In 2016 police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Muhammed. A court sentenced him to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($877) fine. His sentence was subsequently reduced to three years in prison and then commuted in July as part of a broad presidential amnesty. He was scheduled for release in March 2018 as a result of the commutation.
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.
The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of ISPs to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent offenses amounting to 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 between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($438 and $4,385) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.
On April 4, seven administrators of a Facebook page called “Granada City” appeared in court in Bouira on charges stemming from a post in January calling for a general strike. The charges against them were dropped in May.
For a second year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 43 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
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 publication or importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for religious publications. The law gives the 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.”
A January 17 decree by the prime minister clarified the process for the Ministry of Culture’s review of imported books, both in print and electronic form. According to the decree, 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 making a determination, 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 government official said that rejected book importation requests were almost always for religious books that promote extremist ideas. A January 4 decree established a commission within the Ministry of Religious Affairs to review imports of the Quran. This decree requires all applications to include a full copy of the text and other detailed information. The ministry has three to six months to review the text, with the absence of a response after that time constituting a rejection of the application. A separate January 4 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 reference, 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 of time is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.
On March 4, police in the city of Aokas in Bejaia province reportedly prevented a local NGO from holding a conference featuring professor Younes Adli on “Kabyle [Berber] thought in the 18th and 19th centuries.”
In September press outlets reported Algiers International Book Fair Commissioner Hamidou Messaoudi announced that of the 120,000 books proposed for inclusion in the annual fair by 920 publishers representing 51 countries, the Book Fair Commission prohibited the inclusion of 130. Messaoudi said the action was taken pursuant to Algerian law prohibiting the exhibition of books that glorify terrorism, encourage radicalization, or incite racism.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the national government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers. Nonetheless, in many cases authorities allowed unauthorized protests to proceed while negotiations continued regarding protesters’ demands or when government attempts to disperse protests potentially risked igniting violence.
Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their historic practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering.
Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.
On July 22, police in Aokas prevented organizers from holding a “Literary Cafe” featuring Berber-language books. After a crowd gathered at the cultural center where the conference was supposed to be held and forced the doors open, police removed them from the building and reportedly fired rubber bullets into the crowd as an impromptu protest formed. On July 29, another march was held to protest the government’s actions, and residents reported that this protest unfolded peacefully.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government restricted this right.
The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines between DZD 2,000 and DZD 5,000 ($17 and $43) and up to six months’ imprisonment.
According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation as required by law are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations.
The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant in an expeditious fashion official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the ministry, organizations receive a receipt after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision, however. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.
Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt, it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.
The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparu (Missing), the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), the National Association for the Fight Against Corruption, and the Youth Action Movement, all of which submitted their renewal applications in prior years.
The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 108,940 local and 1,293 national associations registered as of 2016. Unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of this right.
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.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Civil society organizations reported that authorities prevented sub-Saharan African migrants in the areas around Tamanrasset from traveling north toward coastal population centers.
In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government maintained restrictions for security reasons on travel into the southern locales of El-Oued and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns.
Foreign Travel: The constitution states that the right to enter and exit the country is provided to citizens. The law does not permit those under age 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women under 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women over 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.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
The government protected an estimated 90,000 to 165,000 Sahrawi refugees who departed Western Sahara after Morocco took control of the territory in the 1970s. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees. Neither the government nor the refugee leadership has allowed UNHCR to conduct registration or complete a census of the Sahrawi refugees. In the absence of formal registration, UNHCR and WFP based humanitarian assistance on a planning figure of 90,000 refugees. There is, however, a joint Sahrawi–UNHCR effort underway to capture more accurately the actual number of persons residing in the Sahrawi camps. The government said that a drop in aid from international donors led to worsening conditions for Sahrawi refugees, and that it had increased its own contributions as a result.
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 Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements. During the year, the government deported migrants to Mali.
The government said that more than 700 people, primarily Nigeriens, were repatriated during the year. The government, led by the Algerian Red Crescent, repatriated more than 17,000 Nigerien migrants to their country pursuant to a bilateral agreement at the request of the government of Niger since 2014, in several repatriation operations. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination among the Algerian Red Crescent, the government of Niger, and the Red Cross of Niger. In July the National Human Rights Committee (CNDH) said the Algerian government had dedicated an additional $3.8 million to ensuring the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations. The repatriations were conducted in coordination with consular officials from the countries of origin of the migrants, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government said that 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.
Access to Asylum: While the law provides generally 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. UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. 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.
As of June the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that since the start of the conflict in Syria, it accepted more than 40,000 Syrian refugees. Between 2012 and 2017, UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 6,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located in Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.
A group of Syrian refugees were stranded on the Moroccan-Algerian border from April to June, with both countries insisting the group was on the other country’s territory. Algeria offered to allow the refugees onto its territory on June 3 but they were not able to enter due to ambiguity regarding the border demarcation. Morocco announced on June 20 it would allow the migrants onto its territory, resolving the issue.
The Ministry of Interior estimated in 2016 that there were 21,073 irregular migrants residing in the country. Independent observers’ estimates in 2017 ranged from 25,000-200,000. Official statistics for 2017 were unavailable, but a government official said the numbers had likely increased compared to previous years due to instability in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Employment: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Because the government does not formally allow refugee employment, 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: Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps near the city of Tindouf, administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario). 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, while the 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 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 the children had trouble in their attempts to integrate 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.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees had not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara.
Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.