On April 9, 2019, authorities reportedly arrested and used violent force against students peacefully protesting the appointment of Algeria’s new interim president.
Protests have spread across Algeria since February 2019, when the country’s president of 20 years, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, announced his intention to run for a fifth term in office. The protest movement included students from various universities holding rallies in downtown Algiers every Tuesday morning to call for Bouteflika’s removal and broad democratic reforms. On April 2, following weeks of protests, Bouteflika declared he would no longer seek re-election, setting in motion the confirmation of Abdelkader Bensalah as the country’s interim president on April 9.
On Tuesday, April 9, student groups assembled for their weekly rally in central Algiers to protest the confirmation of Bensalah who is reportedly viewed by many demonstrators as an establishment figure of Algeria’s old guard. Algerian police reportedly fired water cannons at protesters, many of whom refused to disperse and began chanting “Out with Bensalah! Out with the system.” Police reportedly also fired tear gas canisters at a group of students attempting to return to the University of Algiers’ main campus, and multiple media reports indicate that an unknown number of students were arrested by police. The incident reportedly marked the first instance of police using violent force against the weekly student demonstrators.
Reports indicate that police later released all but one of the students arrested during the demonstration. Azzedine Medahi, reportedly remains in police custody. His whereabouts have not been reported in the media.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the use of arrests and violent force against university students in apparent retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Algeria is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against the nonviolent exercise of these rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.