KONFRONTASI-Courts in Algeria have handed tough jail sentences to three opposition activists whose Facebook posts they deemed potentially damaging to the national interest, according to human rights groups.
Soheib Debaghi received a one-year sentence on Wednesday on charges of encouraging an illegal gathering, insulting an official body and publishing potentially damaging material, the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD) said on its Facebook page.
Amnesty International said two other activists, Larbi Tahar and Boussif Mohamed Boudiaf, were handed 18-month jail sentences by a court in the western town of El Bayadh, also for posts on Facebook.
Angry at unemployment, corruption and an elderly elite seen as out of touch with the young, Algerians began taking to the streets in February last year to protest, initially against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plans to remain in office, and then for the removal of all remnants of a political and military establishment that dominated the country for decades.
The mass protests demanding an overhaul of the country's political system rocked Algeria for more than a year before coming to a standstill in recent months.
Authorities banned marches as a precaution against the outbreak of the new coronavirus, although the opposition had already called a halt to its gatherings.
Activists and analysts fear authorities are using the pandemic as a pretext for crushing the Hirak protest movement.
According to the CNLD, some 50 people are currently detained over links to the movement.
Late last month, Amnesty urged the authorities to end "arbitrary prosecutions aimed at silencing Hirak activists and journalists" during the pandemic, and called for the release of detainees.
The rights group said that authorities were endangering detainees' health, "given the risks of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons and places of detention".[mr/aje]