ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algerian authorities arrested a prominent journalist and a Berber linguist this week as part of what appears to be a growing crackdown on dissent in the Kabylie region.
Both are accused of belonging to the Kabyle Autonomy Movement, a group supporting the Kabyle minority that the Algerian government considers a terrorist organization. They deny the accusations.
They are among dozens of people detained in recent weeks in what activists see as an effort by the authorities to both suppress separatist sentiment and snuff out any remaining opposition stemming from the Hirak pro-democracy movement that helped oust Algeria’s long-serving president in 2019.
The journalist detained, Mohamed Mouloudj of French-language daily Liberte, was arrested Sunday in his Algiers home, and ordered Tuesday to remain in custody in pre-trial detention. He is accused of disseminating false information, attacking national unity, and membership in a terrorist organization, according to his family.
“Mohamed is an Algerian patriot who cannot harm a fly,” his wife Louisa Mouloudj posted on his Facebook page. She said the accusations against him are designed “to punish him for his ideas ”
Another local reporter in the Kabylie region, the traditional home of Berbers east of Algiers, was arrested last week in circumstances that remain unclear.
A leading Berber cultural figure, writer and linguist Abdenour Abdeslam, was also arrested Sunday and accused of belonging to a terrorist organization. He was given preliminary charges and ordered held in pre-trial detention. Six other people have been arrested in recent days and handed the same charge.
The government has not publicly commented on the arrests.
The Kabyle Autonomy Movement, known as MAK, is an unrecognized separatist movement in Algeria which has been campaigning since 2003 for the independence of the Kabylie region. While its existence was long tolerated, the government declared it a terrorist organization under a new law this year. Another organization, Rachad, allegedly Islamist, was given the same label.
Algerian authorities accused MAK of being responsible for fires that ravaged Kabylie last month and killed more than 178 people, according to local officials. Since the fires, dozens of people accused of being members of MAK have been arrested and placed in preventive detention.
MAK leader Ferhat Mehenni, who lives in exile in France, rejects the terrorist label, saying the group is “campaigning peacefully for the independence of the Kabyle people.” In a statement, he said Algerian authorities “have changed the law to give themselves the means to legally dismantle the movement.”
Meanwhile, an academic and Hirak activist, Fodhil Boumala, was put in preventive detention Tuesday and his home was searched, according to his lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi. The reason for the arrest is unclear.