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Algeria opposition party leader arrested for 'insulting' president

Fethi Ghares has been detained on charges of insulting the president and undermining national unity
People chant slogans as they march during a student-led anti-government demonstration in Algeria's capital Algiers on 20 April 2021 (AFP)

Algerian authorities have detained the head of an opposition party on charges that include allegedly insulting President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, his wife and rights groups said on Thursday.

Fethi Ghares, co-ordinator for the small, leftist Democratic and Social Movement party, was taken from his home in a suburb of Algiers on Wednesday night, said his wife Messaouda Cheballah.

According to his lawyers, Ghares, 47, was arrested on charges that include "insulting the president" and "publishing information that could undermine national unity".

No further details were given.

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Said Salhi, vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH), condemned the arrest, saying it was another sign of "repression" in Algeria.

In a statement on Facebook, Salhi accused Algerian authorities of putting the head of a political party in prison “for expressing his opinion”. "Political action is not a crime," he said.

Ghares joined the pro-democracy Hirak movement in 2019 as it tried to oust longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in mass protests that swept the country.

Even after Bouteflika had resigned, in April that year, the long-running protest movement pressed on with its demand for the overhaul of Algeria’s long dominant political system.

The government has banned Hirak demonstrations and stepped up legal proceedings against opponents, activists, journalists and academics.

Some 300 people are currently detained on charges related to the Hirak, according to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD) prisoners' rights group.

The LADDH last month said that seven leading protest movement figures were arrested across the country. 

The Hirak had called for a mass boycott of the country’s parliamentary elections that took place last month, with authorities struggling to contain the movement’s influence. 

Less than a quarter of registered voters took part in the election, which the establishment was hoping would move the country beyond mass protests and political turmoil.