November 19, 2019 / 1:21 PM / 18 days ago

Algerian court jails protesters over election

Demonstrators carry national flags during a protest against the country's ruling elite and rejecting the December presidential election in Algiers, Algeria November 19, 2019. The arabic reads: "Free the detainees". REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

ALGIERS (Reuters) - An Algerian court has jailed four protesters for 18 months for disrupting a candidate’s campaign for the Dec. 12 presidential election which is opposed by a mass protest movement.

The court sentenced the four on Monday after protests on Sunday in the western city of Tlemcen, where one of the five candidates, Ali Benflis, was campaigning. No details were available on what their exact actions were.

Algeria’s authorities are trying to quell a protest movement that erupted in February to demand the departure of the country’s ruling hierarchy, an end to corruption and the army’s withdrawal from politics.

The army, which has emerged as the most powerful institution in the country, has pushed for next month’s election as a means to end the protests and restore normality. The former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, quit in April.

The judgement comes a week after a series of other prison sentences were handed down to protesters who had raised flags with Berber symbols during earlier demonstrations.

Several opposition leaders have also been held during the protests, and charged with contributing to damaging army morale.

However, the authorities have also detained numerous current and former senior officials on corruption charges, and have jailed some of them including the once untouchable former intelligence chief.

The protesters have rejected any presidential election carried out now, saying the continued presence of Bouteflika allies in the upper echelons of the government mean it cannot be free or fair.

Human Rights Watch said last week that the arrest of scores of protesters looked like “part of a pattern of trying to weaken opposition to Algeria’s interim rulers and their determination to hold presidential elections”.

Reporting By Lamine Chikhi, editing by Angus McDowall and Angus MacSwan

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