On May 11, 2021, police in Bejaia arrested 20 university students participating in a 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.
Roughly people gathered at the Targa Ouzemmour campus of the University of Béjaïa for one of the weekly protests on May 11. The group was comprised of students, faculty, and some individuals from outside the university community. Not long after the march from the campus began, police intervened and began arresting protesters. Among those arrested was Ahmed Benberkane, a faculty member and a union organizer.
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 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).