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Algerian court orders detention of journalist over 'undermining morale of army'

Journalist and activist Said Boudour was also charged with spreading 'fake news', rights group says
Protest in Algiers against the December presidential election, 15 October (Reuters)

An Algerian court has ordered the continued detention of a journalist and activist over charges of "undermining the morale of the army", a group that defends political detainees in Algeria said.

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A judge at a court in the western city of Oran on Tuesday placed Said Boudour in custody days after his arrest, according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees, Reuters news agency reported. 

On Friday, Front Line Defenders, a Dublin-based human rights group, released a statement calling for Boudour's immediate release. 

The group said that in addition to charges of "undermining the morale of the army", Boudour was also accused of "defamation and the spread of fake news" and "insulting the regime of Algeria".

An arrest warrant was issued for Boudour in late September, and he turned himself to the authorities at the Department of National Security in Oran on 6 October, Front Line Defenders said. 

The group added that Boudour, who works for online news sites and is a member of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, had suffered frequent harassment from the Algerian authorities for his coverage of rights issues in the country. 

He was detained for his work once in 2016 and twice in 2018, according to Front Line Defenders.

Officially, demonstrations have been banned in Algeria since 2001 but the prohibition has been ignored since rallies started on 22 February against Algeria's longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth presidential term.

Bouteflika resigned in April, but protests have continued, as demonstrators continued to demand a total shake-up of the country's political system and call for corrupt officials to be removed from their posts.

Despite the protesters' objections, the head of the Algerian military, Ahmed Gaid Salah, said in early September that presidential elections will be held by the end of the year. Currently they are scheduled for 12 December. 

'Arbitrary arrests'

It was unclear if Boudour had participated in protests, but rights groups have accused Algerian authorities of arbitrarily detaining civil society leaders in an attempt to stem the demonstrations ahead of the vote.

Amnesty International said on 19 September that at least 37 students and activists had been arrested since 11 September.

"The wave of arbitrary arrests appears to be part of an orchestrated attempt to intimidate demonstrators, including political and other civil society activists, ahead of the elections, creating a climate of fear and repression," Heba Morayef, the rights group's Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement last month. 

"Instead of trampling all over the rights of Algerians, the Algerian authorities should respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and instead learn to listen to protesters."