Algeria: Independent Unions Against Government Repression | Ghania Khelifi, Elizabeth Grech, Algeria, Trade Union, Yacine Zaid, Abdou Bendjoudi, Othmane Aouameur, Lakhdar Bouzidi, Abdelkader Kherba
Algeria: Independent Unions Against Government Repression Print
Ghania Khelifi   

The unarmed opposition

Independent unions took the opportunity of the congress organised by one of them, the National Union of Public Health Practitioners (SNPSPi), to denounce once again “the government’s relentlessness”. Some of them established for nearly twenty years, these unions are autonomous from the UGTAii, the General Union of Algerian Workers, born during the war of independence and a parent organisation of the former single party FLN (National Liberation Front). Since then, although the mass organisations no longer exist officially, the UGTA remained within the system playing the role of the fire fighter that smothers social movements.

As from the 1990s, workers were grouped into different sectors and have established trade unions. Even if the government does not recognize them, they have gained a great capacity to mobilise and manage to cripple their sector with each organised strike. Joined by human rights activists and young bloggers, two weeks ago they called for a protest to support four activists accused of “inciting riots” by the prosecutor in Algiers.


//Abdelkader KherbaAbdelkader Kherba

Yacine Zaid, Abdou Bendjoudi, Othmane Aouameur and Lakhdar Bouzidi were to appear before the judge for having participated in a protest in support of Abdelkader Kherba last April 26. The latter was also arrested for taking part in a demonstration to support clerks on strike, and was then charged and sentenced for the same reason. Kafkaesque!


During the past years, the Algerian government has been facing a protesting movement by citizens that belong to no political party or clan and who are thus more difficult to exploit. Having discredited political parties through corruption and manipulation and completed media censorship, the government is trying to minimise opposition from civil society. The uses of speedy justice, arbitrary dismissals and interference with the exercise of trade union action have become the daily lot of these protesters’ claims that are widely shared by the population.


Since the Arab Spring, the government’s fear of seeing this revolt reaching all social categories by capillary action is increasingly manifested through the ferocity of repression. Indifferent to both domestic and foreign condemnations, the government does not bother to be tactful anymore. “Attacks against premises, dismissals and even death threats”, such is the conclusion of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on the situation of independent unions in Algeria.


The 2012 final report of this NGO on violations of trade union rights is clear. 262 dismissals were reported during 2011 in Algeria, and dozens of activists of independent trade unions have been severely punished for participating in sit-ins, strikes or rallies. All sectors are affected. Thus, among paramedics, six members of the health trade union have been suspended while eight managers including 6 women from the National Federation of Justice have been on a hunger strike for over a month. The minister in question is not concerned by their “critical” health condition.


//Khaled KeddadKhaled KeddadThe Minister of Health suspended Khaled Keddad, president of the National Union of Algerian Psychologists (Snapsy) from office. The inter-union of health professionals does not preclude the use of protest to denounce these “transgressions”. Nevertheless, Algeria is always singled out when it comes to infringement of civil liberties.


During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the 29th of May 2012, several UN member states have expressed their concerns regarding barriers to the exercise of civil liberties. According to the UPR’s conclusions, the laws on associations, information and political parties adopted in January 2012, contrary to the Algerian government’s statements, do not comply with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by Algeria.


In early May, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had also expressed his “concern” with regards to the limits to freedom and independence of non-governmental organisations.


In the section devoted to Algeria, the U.S. State Department report published on the 24th of May, mentions three major human rights violations: restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, the inability of citizens to change the State’s executive, particularly in light of the constitutional amendments of 2008 that enable the President to run for unlimited terms of office. The evaluation of Amnesty International's 50th annual report on the situation of human rights worldwide is just as “negative”. AI believes that despite the lifting of the state of emergency in force since 1992, in Algeria “the government has maintained tight restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly as well as religious practices.”


The authorities have discovered that their repressive measures against all these freedoms could be blocked by Internet. Long confused over the “blogosphere”, the authorities have quickly responded by first attacking heavily Yacine Zaid, blogger, human rights activist and trade unionist and then Tarek Mameri. This young Internet user was convicted for “subversive activity” and sentenced to three years in prison and a heavy fine by the prosecutor of the court of Algiers.

Algeria: Independent Unions Against Government Repression | Ghania Khelifi, Elizabeth Grech, Algeria, Trade Union, Yacine Zaid, Abdou Bendjoudi, Othmane Aouameur, Lakhdar Bouzidi, Abdelkader Kherba

The young Tarek was accused of having posted videos inciting vandalism and destruction of administrative papers that were actually campaign posters for the last legislative elections. Yet his message has nothing to do with violence: “I send this message to all the children of the capital city as well as those of Algeria in general: do not break, do not burn so they cannot accuse us of being thugs. Just remove the panels and put them aside so that they will pass by to take them away.” In Algeria, campaigning for boycott, participating to a sit-in or calling for a strike can lead to prison or worse.



Ghania Khelifi

Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech


i Syndicat national des praticiens de la santé publique

ii Union générale des travailleurs algériens