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, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. Independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies. The government harassed critics, arbitrarily enforced vaguely worded laws, and informally pressured 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 the government to exert undue influence on press outlets.
Freedom of Expression: Although 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.” The law criminalizes spreading “false news” that “harms national unity” and does not distinguish among news reports, social media, and other media. Penalties include prison terms of two to five years as well as fines. The law also criminalizes “hate speech.” A law remains in place criminalizing speech relating to security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s, although the government stated there had been no arrests or prosecutions under the law during the year. Government officials also monitored political party meetings.
Local press outlets reported on December 23 that authorities had arrested Ishane El Kadi, the director of independent online media outlets Radio M and Maghreb Emergent, during a nighttime raid on his home. The following day, authorities brought El Kadi in handcuffs to the shared office of Radio M, Maghreb Emergent, and their parent company Interface Media, where they confiscated computers and documents before sealing the premises. As of the end of the year, El Kadi remained in custody without any formal charges having been announced. Human rights organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrest and closures, and called for El Kadi’s release. Authorities previously charged El Kadi with terrorism in November and dropped the charges a week later (see section 2.a., National Security).
On November 9, a court sentenced university professor Hakima Sbaihi to six months in prison on charges of “contempt of the president and contempt of law enforcement forces” after Sbaihi posted a Facebook message critical of the government. She remains free pending an appeal of her conviction. In a separate case on November 8, a prosecutor requested a one-year prison sentence for university professor Lounici Latifa on charges of “publishing false information that could harm public order and the national interest,” “inciting an unarmed gathering,” and “contempt of the president and law enforcement forces,” also for a Facebook post critical of the government.
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.
Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation from the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV) for criticism of the government. The accreditation for France 24, cancelled by Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer in June 2021 for what the minister called the media outlet’s “clear and repeated hostility towards our country and its institutions,” remained cancelled as of year’s end. Since the withdrawal of France 24’s accreditation, several foreign news outlets reported that journalists – both foreign and local – faced bureaucratic hurdles and needed to navigate murky procedural processes to operate.
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 for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to be a citizen. 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.”
On September 8, authorities in Algiers arrested Belkacem Haouam, a reporter for the local independent daily newspaper Echorouk, after he responded to a summons for questioning. Haouam’s summons concerned an article published on September 7 about the Ministry of Commerce’s decision to suspend date exports due to their high levels of pesticides. The ministries of commerce and agriculture denounced the article as “based on unjustified information, devoid of any substance, and harmful to the national economy and its resources.” On the day of Haouam’s arrest, Echourouk withdrew the article from its website, and the paper no longer appeared in daily news kiosks. Following the arrest, ARAV warned media against spreading false information likely to harm the national economy. On October 25, a court convicted Haouam of publishing false information, and he received a one-year suspended sentence with two-months of incarceration. On November 8, he was released from prison.
On October 11, police arrested Nadir Kerri, editor of the online publication AutoJazair, for his article on President Tebboune’s new vehicle import policy. Kerri’s article included a largely positive summary of President Tebboune’s October 9 decision to resume new vehicle imports, although it also contained speculation on the impact the policy may have on domestic auto prices. On October 12, authorities provisionally released Kerri and placed him under “judicial control,” meaning the threat of charges remains.
Libel/Slander Laws: The 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 arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, including the use of the Amazigh flag during protests, and citizens practiced self-censorship in expressing public criticism.
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. 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.
On November 16, a court sentenced the president of the Justice and Proclamation party and former MP Naima Salhi to six months in prison and 150,000 dinar ($1,000) in damages paid to a former Ministry of Interior employee. The employee had sued Salhi in 2020 for defamation, claiming Salhi had used a pejorative that implied disloyalty to the country based on the employee’s Kabylie heritage. The public prosecutor added charges of “undermining national unity.” As of November, Salhi remained free while her appeal of the decision is pending.
The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”
Local media reported that on June 3 the Anti-Cybercrime Brigade of the Judicial Police of Constantine arrested a man for a Facebook post displaying cartoons and pictures deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohamed and other prophets of Islam. There was no information available on the status of this case at the end of the year.
Authorities cited broad provisions under the penal code, including membership in a terrorist organization, to arrest or punish critics including journalists and human rights defenders. In February the Middle East Institute reported that 59 detainees were being held under expanded terrorism-related charges under the penal code that the NGO reported were being imposed on “peaceful political activists.”
On November 30 a court sentenced Hassan Bouras, a well-known human rights’ activist with the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), to two years in prison, with a one year suspended sentence and he was released with time served. Bouras had been detained since his September 2021 arrest for membership in a terrorist group, spreading false information, and offending public bodies, among other charges related to posts he made on social media. Bouras had been previously imprisoned for his criticism of the government, according to Human Rights Watch.
On November 10, journalist Ihsane El Kadi, director of the popular news outlets Maghreb Emergent and Radio M, was charged with “financing terrorism” after Radio M awarded a cash prize to Human Rights Defender Zaki Hannache for achievements in investigative journalism. Authorities also charged Hannache in the same case for “apology for terrorist acts,” “undermining unity,” and “dissemination and publication of false information aimed at undermining the national interest,” related to Hannache’s human rights activism. Authorities dropped terrorism charges against El Kadi and Hannache on November 17, after 45 local, Moroccan, and Tunisian human rights organizations criticized the government’s actions in the case. On June 7, El Kadi had been sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars ($360) for unrelated charges stemming from the publication of an article advocating the inclusion of the Islamic movement Rachad in the hirak protests. In addition, the journalist was ordered to pay the judicial agent of the public treasury 100,000 dinars ($720) and the Ministry of Communication 300,000 dinars ($2,160).
While 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 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 sixth 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.
Restrictions on 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 the review, 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.
The law 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.
Sufi Muslim academic Said Djabelkheir’s appeal remained pending before the Supreme Court at the end of the year. In April 2021, authorities sentenced 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 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.
b. Freedoms 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 generally did not respect this right. A ban on unauthorized demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect, and civil society reported difficulty securing authorization for demonstrations. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the local governor, who is appointed by the national government, 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 organizers’ publicity and outreach efforts. The DGSN reported it arrested 1,551 protesters nationwide during the year, 85 percent fewer than in 2021 primarily due to fewer demonstrations after a government crackdown ended the weekly Friday hirak demonstrations in mid-2021.
On January 6, the opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) received a notice from the Interior Ministry warning that the government would close the party’s premises if RCD continued to hold unauthorized meetings. The warning came after a December 2021 meeting at its headquarters where activists called for the creation of a “front against repression and for freedoms,” according to Human Rights Watch. In October, for the second time, the governor of Tizi Ouzou prohibited RCD from holding its summer meeting planned for October 20-22 in Azeffoune. On October 16, RCD initiated a legal action before the administrative court of Tizi Ouzou to cancel the ban and the party has not held its event by year’s end.
Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their 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. NGOs reported instances of not receiving the written authorization in time to hold planned meetings. NGOs reported that the government threatened hotel and restaurant owners with penalties if they rented rooms to NGOs without official authorization. In most cases the NGOs continued to hold their meetings and police came to the hotels to end the gatherings or monitor proceedings. Police continued to ban unauthorized protests and disperse unauthorized gatherings, and fewer protests occurred compared to prior years.
On December 8, the governor of Bejaia refused the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights’ (LADDH) request to hold a forum in a library commemorating international Human Rights Day.
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 and individuals may face up to six months’ imprisonment.
According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for provincial-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. Although the Ministry of Interior is responsible for authorizing associations, the government stated COVID-19 spurred the ministry to relax registration rules, specifically for health-care charities operating on the local level, as these organizations were better positioned to assist during the pandemic.
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 it 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 complete application for accreditation. In practice, this receipt is often sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space, however NGOs reported that this is not always respected. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.
Many organizations reported they never received a receipt 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 even after calling the ministry and trying to register at local police stations. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government. NGOs reported that the inability to register or receive a response from the government to complete applications put them in legal jeopardy, including the threat of arrest, fines, and closure of the organization.
On September 28, international Catholic relief and development agency Caritas publicly announced it would cease operations in country after the Ministry of Interior ordered its closure. Caritas, which began operating in country in 1962, was not registered as an NGO, instead operating under the auspices of the Catholic church. Nonetheless, Caritas did have a separate employer ID number allowing it to employ 37 local and foreign staff.
On September 5, the governor of Oran ordered the closure and sealing of the premises of the Sidi El Houari Health Association. In May the governor of Oran had filed a complaint calling for the dissolution of the association for having received foreign funding without the prior consent of the competent authorities.
The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there was a 5 percent increase from the previous year in registered local associations (124,487) and a 4 percent increase in regional associations (1873) registered as of September. Of the 97 registration applications for associations, 55 were accepted and registered, 11 were rejected, and 31 remained in process as of September. Unregistered associations remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
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.
Human rights groups have raised concerns over the government’s use of extrajudicial travel bans to target journalists, activists, and critics. In August authorities prevented journalist and human rights activist Jamila Loukil and Kaddour Chouicha, vice president of the office of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) and prominent union activist, from traveling to Geneva to attend the Universal Periodic Review presession dedicated to civil society. Chouicha and Loukil were stopped by police at Oran airport and interrogated for two hours about the reason for their travel, their destination, and their links with UN human rights mechanisms. It was only after the plane departed that Chouicha and Loukil were able to leave the police station. Authorities stated the travel restrictions were related to terrorism charges; however, NGOs report the individuals were unaware that they were banned from international travel.
On October 24, border agents prevented journalist and editor-in-chief of the regional daily Le Provincial, Mustapha Bendjama, from traveling to Tunisia, citing “orders from the top.” Border agents prevented Bendjama’s travel without a formal travel ban by the Ministry of Justice, the sole entity with the authority under law to issue such bans.
e. Protection of Refugees
The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern including on Sahrawi refugee cases.
The government protected a significant number of refugees in five refugee camps near Tindouf. Many Sahrawi refugees rely on humanitarian assistance, and UNHCR reported many refugees, especially women, had not recovered jobs and other sources of income lost 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. The government had previously intervened to provide temporary support to prevent abrupt food shortages in the camps; however, Sahrawi refugee response relies on international donors’ support.
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 ongoing border closures, UNHCR stated that asylum applications rose during the year, with 2,662 recorded as of August. UNHCR registered 1,900 of these applications. UNHCR monitored and advocated for the release of refugees from migrant detention facilities.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports 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 reported most of its registered refugees came from Syria, Guinea, Mali, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Cote d’Ivoire, 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: 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.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières estimated the country deported more than 14,000 migrants to Niger between January and May, including to active conflict zones. Official deportations of Nigerien citizens take place under a 2014 bilateral agreement, while unofficial convoys expel thousands to Niger regardless of their country of origin. In September press reported that 847 migrants, mostly Nigeriens, arrived in northern Niger after authorities deported them. Among them were 40 women and 74 unaccompanied children.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: 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. Doctors Without Borders reported many migrants deported or expelled to Niger were subjected to violence and degrading treatment. During the year, 130 refugees deported from the country reported cases of violations of their human rights during their arrest or detention, including physical and verbal abuse.
Freedom of Movement: The government allows Sahrawi refugees to travel to the town of Tindouf, but they must obtain special permission to leave the Tindouf-Sahrawi camp area. Sahrawi refugees generally were able to travel after seeking permission and many travel between the Sahrawi camps, other cities in the country, Spain, and Cuba.
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 and support from family and acquaintances, as well as assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.
Access to Basic Services: 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 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 or 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 more than 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the POLISARIO continued to call for a referendum on independence for 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 government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees through the Algerian Red Crescent, including to Syrians and Malians. There was no data available on the number of individuals provided temporary protection during the year.