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Three Algerian activists detained over Hirak demonstration

Noted blogger among those facing range of charges after urging release of protest-movement prisoners
Policemen stop an anti-government demonstrator in Algiers on 14 March 2020 (AFP)

Three activists of Algeria's "Hirak" protest movement were ordered to be held in pre-trial detention on Saturday, a prisoners' defence group said.

The National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD) told AFP that Merzoug Touati, Yanis Adjila and Amar Beri appeared in court in the northeastern town of Bejaia.

They are set to go on trial on 17 June for incitement, "publication that could damage the national interest" and "endangering the lives of others during the confinement period" against the novel coronavirus, CNLD spokesman Kaci Tansaout said.

He said Beri also faced charges of "damaging the person of the president of the republic," Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

Touati is a well-known activist, blogger and left-wing journalist for L'Avant-Garde Algerie, a website blocked in the country. Adjila is a human rights advocate, and Beri is another Hirak member.

The three formed part of a group of around 20 people arrested on Friday for trying to hold a protest in support of the release of other Hirak activists. The rest were detained only briefly and released.

Four people who were outside the Bejaia tribunal on Saturday to show their support for the activists were taken to a nearby police station.

The Algerian League of Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) on Saturday called for the activists to be "freed and all legal proceedings against them to be dropped".

The LADDH went on to reiterate its demand for the "release of all prisoners of conscience, the opening of political and media fields, and an end to repression in these times of pandemic".

Weekly anti-government protests had rocked Algeria for more than a year, playing a large role in the ouster of longtime head of state Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2019. Demonstrations continued to take place long after his dismissal, as protesters called for the whole corrupt state apparatus to be dismantled.

The demonstrations only came to a halt in March due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, with the authorities banning marches, although the opposition had already suspended its regular gatherings.

According to the CNLD, some 60 people are currently detained on charges linked to the protest movement, most of them over posts on Facebook.