On May 4, 2021, police in Algiers dispersed and arrested students participating in a peaceful pro-democracy protest.
Algeria has seen frequent and massive protests since February 2019, when President Bouteflika announced his candidacy for a fifth term. University students have been regular fixtures within the Hirak Movement, a term popularly used to describe the protest movement. Bouteflika resigned in April 2019, but the protesters continued to demonstrate, demanding broader democratic reforms. The Hirak protests were put on hold at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but resumed in February 2021, the two-year anniversary. Protests have occurred on a nearly weekly basis, traditionally on Tuesdays.
A heavy police presence was deployed to the May 4 protest to prevent students from carrying out their march in downtown Algiers. Dozens of students and non-student protesters were arrested before the march could begin. Those arrested included the well-known student-activist Abdennour Ait Saïd.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by arrests and efforts by police to restrict students’ nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected by 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. While state authorities have a responsibility to ensure safety and order, they also have a responsibility to refrain from restricting nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, arrests and dispersals of nonviolent student protests undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).