Karim Tabbou, a key figure in anti-government demonstrations that forced longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign in 2019, has been detained, according to his lawyer, weeks ahead of elections that Tabbou and other opposition activists have pledged to boycott.
Tabbou, who was handed a one-year suspended sentence last year for “undermining state security”, is expected to appear before prosecutors on Thursday, his lawyer Ali Fellah Benali said on social media.
“Algeria’s youth is determined to fight for their right to a dignified life,” Tabbou, 47, told the AFP news agency ahead of his detention.
His detention comes as the pro-democracy protest movement known as the Hirak has sought to regain some of the momentum it lost when it suspended street rallies just over a year ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tabbou was summoned to the police station on Wednesday evening to respond to a complaint filed against him by Bouzid Lazhari, the president of the state-sponsored National Council for Human Rights, an official body.
The 47-year-old became one of the most recognisable leaders at mass anti-corruption demonstrations that broke out in February 2019.
The Hirak protest movement was sparked by Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office.
The ailing leader was forced to step down weeks later, but the Hirak has continued its demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.
Since the group’s second anniversary in February, thousands have returned to the streets, defying a coronavirus ban on gatherings.
Algerians ‘fed up’
Tabbou said his own party, the Democratic Social Union, was now “the largest political party” in the North African country, despite it being unregistered by the authorities.
His detention comes as activists warn of an increasing climate of repression, with political opponents and journalists targeted in the run-up to the legislative elections on June 12.
Earlier this month, security forces arrested eight people they said were linked to the Hirak movement over an allegedly foreign-financed criminal association.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune this month warned Hirak activists against “non-innocent activities” that “attempt to hinder the democratic process”.
President Tebboune served as a prime minister under Bouteflika and won a presidential election in December 2019, in a poll that was boycotted by the protest movement. Official data put the turnout at less than 40 percent.
In further moves dismissed by the protest movement as window dressing, Tebboune oversaw a constitutional referendum late last year and brought the legislative elections forward, in what he called a bid to soothe the political and socioeconomic crisis.
“This election does not concern us,” Tabbou told AFP.
“The regime mobilised colossal resources to hold a false presidential election, a false referendum – and now it organises false legislative elections,” he said.
Many Algerians were fed up, he said. “We see the country as a barracks”.
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