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Algeria: Global unions condemn detention of 1,000 protestors

On 20 January, Algerian police forcefully detained at least 1,000 people during action to stop a peaceful rally organized by IndustriALL Global Union’s oil and gas trade union affiliate, SNATEGS, in the capital, Algiers.

The detainees were taken by bus to remote areas and denied food and water from 11 in the morning until nine in the evening. Security forces confiscated their phones and deleted photos of the rally, as well as evidence of police oppression that took place. According to SNATEGS, some women protestors were sexually harassed and other trade union members were physically assaulted.  

Global unions, IndustriALL, IUF, PSI and the ITUC have written to the Algerian labour minister, Mr Mourad Zemali, to the condemn the treatment of the protestors, who were a mix of trade unionists, civil society and injured army veterans.  

About 10,000 police officers took part in an operation to prevent the SNATEGS rally on 20 January, organized to demand the government stops privatization of national companies; upholds freedom of association and reinstates dismissed workers and union leaders at state-owned energy company Sonelgaz.

Security forces blocked all the entrances to the capital with barriers and strictly monitored people entering the city. Many buses carrying protestors were turned back. According to SNATEGS, 30,000 people attempted to take part in the protest but only six to seven hundred managed to reach the rally held in front of the central post office in Algiers.

“These actions by the police constitute gross violations of the right to freedom of assembly and the civil rights of Algerian citizens. We further condemn the escalating repression of trade unions and trade union leaders in Algeria,” said the letter from the leaders of the global unions to the Algerian labour minister.

Since the union was registered in 2013, SNATEGS and its leaders have been subject to increasing oppression and judicial persecution. SNATEGS President, Raouf Mellal, who blew the whistle on wide-scale deliberate overcharging of Sonelgaz customers over a ten-year period, has been convicted to 17 months in prison and fines of 10,000 euros (US$12,300). He is currently not in custody and appealing the charges but has been forbidden to leave the country.

Furthermore, SNATEGS General Secretary, Abdelkader Kawafi, has received notification to attend a trial on 6 February based on charges of “defamation”.

“We deplore this inhumane treatment of peaceful citizens who have every right to carry out a peaceful demonstration without retaliation. We call on the Algerian government to stop attacking trade unions in the country and end the judicial persecution of trade union leaders,” said Valter Sanches, General Secretary of IndustriALL.

However, despite the convictions, the courts have also recognized Raouf Mellal as the legitimate President of SNATEGS, despite attempts by the government and Sonelgaz to remove him and dissolve the union. A court of Guelma also annulled the decision by Sonelgaz to dismiss Raouf Mellal in 2014, based on the Algerian law that protects trade union leaders from arbitrary dismissal. 

Sign the LabourStart campaign and demand the Algerian government stops attacking independent energy union SNATEGS.


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