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Algeria: Former MP charged with 'insulting' figures of national anti-colonial struggle

Nordine Ait Hamouda called national icons including Emir Abdelkader 'traitors' for their allegedly close ties to France
Emir Abdelkader, pictured in Damascus in 1862, is among the most well-known figures of the Algerian independence movement (AFP)

An Algerian former MP was arrested on Sunday evening on charges including "insulting symbols of the state", after calling well-known figures of the country’s anti-colonial struggle “traitors” on television.

Nordine Ait Hamouda, 71, the son of Colonel Amirouche, a prominent figure of the Algerian independence movement, was arrested on Saturday after moderating a conference in Bejaia, in Algeria’s northeastern region of Kabylie. He appeared in court in the capital Algiers the following day.

A week earlier, he had provoked a national controversy by calling Emir Abdelkader, a hero of the 19th-century resistance to French colonialism, former Algerian president Houari Boumedienne and nationalist leader Messali Hadj “traitors” on a show on private channel El Hayat TV.

“All French writers call him (Abdelkader) a ‘friend of France’. Everyone knows that Emir Abdelkader surrendered to France,” he said on the show. “He even received the Legion of Honour from the French state. All of this is amply sufficient to know that Emir Abdelkader is a traitor.”

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Algeria was France’s longest-held colony, with the European power exerting its oftentimes violent rule over the territory from 1830 to 1962.

After members of the Abdelkader family and the Emir Abdelkader Foundation lodged an official complaint, Ait Hamouda was charged on Sunday with “insulting symbols of the state and the revolution”, “insult against a former president”, “injury against national unity” and “incitement to racial hatred and discrimination”, according to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD).

Ait Hamouda served as an MP for the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) - a liberal party from the Amazigh community in Algeria - from 1997 to 2002 and from 2007 until 2012. He was excluded from the RCD  for refusing to campaign for the party’s candidate in the 2015 legislative elections.

As a result of Ait Hamouda’s comments, Algeria’s audiovisual regulation authority (ARAV) temporarily suspended programming on El Hayat TV, despite the channel’s director Habet Hannachi stating that the former MP did not represent the point of view of the channel.

Hannachi was also arrested on Saturday, but has not been charged.

ARAV nonetheless stated that it “reserved itself the right to engage in all necessary judiciary measures in case of recidivism”.

The Ministry of the Mujahideen (war veterans) has indicated that it would also act as plaintiff in any trials against “those who attack the symbols of the nation”.