Protesters defy flag ban on Algeria demonstrations as repression intensifies

Protesters gather at the Algerian embassy in London, 22 June

Protesters gather at the Algerian embassy in London, 22 June

For the second week in running, thousands of protesters across Algeria defied attempts by the police to seize Amazigh (Berber) flags after army chief Gaïd Salah declared that only the national flag would be permitted on demonstrations. Police used tasers against protesters in the capital Algiers, and made numerous arrests. One of those seized for wearing a t-shirt with the Amazigh emblem was 25-year old Samira Messouci, an elected member of the People’s Assembly (regional parliament) in Tizi Ouzou province.

In London, on 22 June, hundreds of activists carrying Algerian and Amazigh flags joined a march to the Algerian embassy. Protesters told us they were angry at army chief Gaïd Salah’s flag ban.

“They have been chasing people through the streets for holding a Berber flag,” Kamal Amazigh said. “What next? Is Gaid Salah going to try and abolish my language? … The generals are looking to sit on the throne and govern the country for us. They all ought to be jailed.”

Rabie is one of the volunteers at the protests. “No-one should be giving orders to Algerian protesters about which flag we should raise. The national flag is our first flag and a lot of martyrs died for it. The Berber flag does not only represent the Algerian Berbers but all the Berbers of North Africa, which is the real identity of Algeria, something that all the Algerians are proud of.”

“All we’ve had from Gaïd Salah is empty speeches. We don’t want a military regime. We don’t want to keep the same regime which has been in power since ‘62. We don’t want any remnants of Bouteflika or the old regime. We want a new Algerian state, a state of rights and justice.”

Abdellah Behlouli said that protesters would not give in to the army’s divide-and-rule tactics. “Gaïd Salah and the regime are playing this trick in an attempt to divide people. But the answer was very strong from Algerian citizens, they have become more united than before.”

Trade unionists protest at the Algerian embassy in London, 20 June

Trade unionists protest at the Algerian embassy in London, 20 June

Political prisoners

The crackdown on protesters follows weeks of intensifying repression, including the arrest of prominent critics of the regime, such as Louisa Hanoune, General Secretary of the radical left Workers’ Party who was detained by a military court on 9 May.

Activists from UCU, PCS and NEU joined a delegation to the Algerian embassy on 20 June to call for her release. In a statement the organisers of the Free Louisa Hanoune campaign said: “ Louisa Hanoune has been known in the world and for years for her stance and her uncompromising fight in defence of democracy, freedoms and women’s rights. She is always on the side of the people and the oppressed.”

Louisa is well-known for her campaigns against the Family Code, which discriminates against Algerian women, treating them essentially as minors, and for equal recognition of the Berber language alongside Arabic.

In the leadership of the Workers Party, she has been active for many years supporting striking workers and fighting for social justice.

A statement in solidarity with Louisa has been launched by the international campaign and is gathering endorsements from leading activists in UCU, the bakers’ union BFAWU, NEU, Unite and PCS.

Christina Paine from the UCU National Executive gave a copy of the statement to staff at the embassy on behalf of the delegation. Further signatures will be handed in at a follow up meeting trade unionists are requesting with the ambassador.

What you can do:

  • Pass a resolution in your trade union branch condemning the repression of protests in Algeria, and calling for the release of political prisoners
  • Sign the statement in solidarity with Louisa here and download a list of some of the initial signatories here Louise Hanoune PDF
  • Use the hashtag #freelouisahanoune on social and media and follow the campaign here
  • Download Louisa’s biography here Louisa Hanoune short biography
  • Pass a resolution in your trade union branch calling for the release of Louisa and all other political prisoners in Algeria

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