Police seal Algeria capital on eve of election

Police sealed off the Algerian capital Friday to prevent protesters gathering on the eve of a parliamentary election they have vowed to boycott.

The Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights said seven leading protest movement figures had been arrested on Thursday evening, five in Algiers and two in other parts of the country.

“We do not know the grounds for these arrests,” its vice president Said Salhi told AFP.

Among those detained in Algiers were leading opposition figure Karim Tabbou and independent journalist Khaled Drareni, as well the director of a pro-reform radio station, Ihsane El Kadi.

Drareni was being held in a barracks on the ouskirts of the capital. His only contact with his family was a 1:30 am phone call, his lawyer Zoubida Assoul said.

The journalist, who was only released on bail in February after being detained  while covering a mass demonstration in the capital in March last year was expected to face a new trial.

Tabbou and Ihsane El Kadi were being held in the same barracks, their lawyers said.

Since last month, the government has clamped down on the weekly protests of the Hirak reform movement, detaining hundreds of activists who have defied new restrictions on public gatherings.

Prior approval is now required from the interior ministry, an impossible demand for a movement that prides itself on having no formal leadership, making all of its demonstrations effectively illegal.

A presidential decree published in the official gazette on Thursday opens a new avenue for the prosecution of Hirak activists by changing the penal code’s definition of acts of terrorism.

It establishes an official blacklist of individuals and entities suspected of terrorism that could be used against activists, opposition leaders or journalists.

Police were out in force in Algers to preempt any attempt by the Hirak to  protest, AFP correspondents reported.

“This repressive atmosphere and the restrictions placed on human rights and freedoms mean these elections have no democratic value,” Salhi said.