For the first time in Algeria's modern history, the certainties of the established police state were dealt a severe blow by cyber-activists. Young Algerians are resorting to new technologies and a wide range of tools offered by the Internet to speak out against the tyranny of law enforcement and protect human rights.
It all started at the end of November 2013 when protests rattled the tranquility and peace of the town of El Guerrara in Wilayah district of Ghardaïa Province, more than 600 kilometers south of the Algerian capital Algiers. In that city, where unemployment, deprivation, hardship and precariousness are part of the daily routine, resides a religious community called the Ibadites. Their religious beliefs differ slightly from the majority of Algerians’ faith, who are followers of Sunni Islam. Ibadites are routinely victims of discrimination and injustice from the Algerian political authorities.
For every Ibadites protest demanding better life conditions, authorities would crack down on protesters, arrest them, take them to police stations and subject them to beatings and torture. In the absence of factual evidence, it was difficult for civil society to force public authorities to sanction the law enforcement agents perpetuating those acts.
However, the youth of the region are well aware of the impact that the Internet can bring when it comes to defend and protect human rights. Very quickly, citizen journalists, most often members of activist networks, used their mobile phones to capture scenes of police repression and collect testimonies of young men tortured and beaten by the police, as seen in the following video:
The clips were posted on YouTube and quickly went viral on the Algerian web. A police officer who was also a member of a cyber-militant group went as far as to secretly tape his colleagues commenting and revealing confidential information on the abusive arrests and torture practices of the riot police. The video was soon posted on YouTube with explanatory comments showing how some activists were detained and tortured. It sparked a public outcry.
At the beginning of January 2014, massive protests of this sectarian conflict opposing Mozabites, a Berber minority and Ibadites against Arab Sunni spread to the city of Ghardaïa, in the same Wilayah. Netizens were there as well to expose the racist and brutal practices perpetrated by some Algerian police officers:
Again, netizens videos and reports contributed to shedding the light on the abuses of law enforcement. The following video clip shows how police officers protected Arab rioters and attacked only Mozabite protesters:
The scandal has earned a global buzz. Videos and testimonies of cyber-activists reached international media. On Facebook, where around 4.5 million Algerians have a Facebook account, the pages of activists also relayed the information from Ghardaïa. The underlying reasons for the tension in city are addressed [fr] in a blog post Les Observateurs :
Les policiers sont de fait impliqués dans ces tensions car ils sont, pour la majorité, issus de la communauté arabe de Ghardaïa et des villes voisines. Ce qui explique le fait qu’ils prennent parti pour les Arabes. Contrairement à eux, les gendarmes sont bien accueillis par la communauté mozabite.
Police officers are by default involved in these tensions because they belong in their majority to the Sunni sect in Ghardaïa and its neighboring towns. This explains their taking sides with the Arabs.
The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) [ar, fr] used the power of these videos, articles and written testimonies to alert public opinion at both national and international levels [fr]. It succeeded in obtaining information proving that:
l’attitude scandaleuse de certains agents des forces de police que ce soit lors du conflit (gestes obscènes, comportement et propos racistes etc) ou lors de l’arrestation des Algériens Mozabites (jeter de l’eau froide sur des détenus, les obliger à se déshabiller, les obliger à mimer des attitudes obscènes) laissent croire que les forces de police Algériennes se comportent comme les forces d’occupation Américaine en Irak notamment dans la prison d’Abu Ghraib!
The scandalous attitude of some police agents whether during the conflict (obscene acts, racists comments and behavior, etc) or during the arrest of Algerian Mozabites (i.e. throwing cold water on detainees, forcing them to take off their clothes or to perform obscene acts) may lead to the assumption that Algerian police forces behaved like the American occupying forces in Iraq, namely in Abu Ghraib prison.
The following video shows police forces surrounding a Mozabite protester and beating him repeatedly [ar]:
Well aware of these recurrent scandals, Algerian authorities are starting to investigate these events. They went as far as sanctioning and suing police officers “suspected of having taken sides during Ghardaïa events”, according to the General Security Directorate that monitors all of Algeria's police services. Other investigations are also being instigated. Thanks to the mobilization of cyber-journalists, police abuse will not remain in the shadows any longer. Cyber-activists won a big battle against the Algerian regime. They even succeeded in making it yield by demanding an investigation regarding these events.
For now, this is an important victory for the proponents of the defense of human rights in Algeria.