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Algeria: Imprisoned Hirak activists launch hunger strike

Mohamed Tadjadit and Noureddine Khimoud are protesting against their incarceration amid a growing crackdown on government critics
Algerian journalists gather to demand the release of their colleague Khaled Drareni in the capital Algiers on 24 August 2020 (AFP)

Two jailed activists from Algeria's anti-government Hirak protest movement have been on hunger strike for over a week in a protest against their incarceration, one of their lawyers said on Saturday.

Mohamed Tadjadit, nicknamed the "Hirak poet", and Noureddine Khimoud had been arrested on 23 August and held in preventive detention for "inciting an unarmed gathering" and publishing material that "could harm national unity", according to their lawyers.

Five days later, they began a hunger strike "because they consider that the detention is abusive and unfounded", one of the defence attorneys, Zoubida Assoul, told AFP.

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Tadjadit defied a ban on public protests imposed by the authorities in March, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and took part in an anti-government rally on 21 August in Algiers, according to local media.

He had been arrested in November last year and sentenced the following month to 18 months in jail on charges of "undermining the national interest".

Tadjadit had been among more than 70 members of the Hirak movement released from prison in January.

Anti-government protests led by the Hirak movement last year led to the removal of ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Demonstrations have continued since then, demanding the change of the entire state apparatus, reviled by many Algerians as inept and corrupt.

Weekly demonstrations rocked Algeria for more than a year and only came to a halt in March due to the coronavirus crisis.

But authorities have in recent months stepped up a crackdown on government critics, including journalists, opposition politicians and Hirak members.