Civil society in Algeria operates in a politically complex environment, influenced by attempts at manipulation by different political forces. For over two decades, associations were governed by the highly restrictive Law on Associations (Law 90-31 of 1990) [English] [عربي] [French], which was adopted shortly before a military coup and a prolonged period of violence and terrorism in Algeria. Following the pro-reform uprisings in other Arab countries in early 2011, President Bouteflika pledged that he would enact major political and legislative reforms to address popular discontent, including a number of new laws to enhance individual rights and freedoms.
However, the new Law on Associations (Law 12-06 of 2012) [French] [عربي], adopted in 2012, created additional restrictions on the freedom of association, and generally fails to protect the right in line with Algeria’s international obligations. The 2012 Law gives the government broad discretion to refuse to register associations, and fails to provide them with an adequate remedy to appeal a rejection of their registration request. The law also allows the government to suspend an association’s activities or dissolve it on vague grounds, places restrictions on associations’ founders, makes it difficult for associations to receive foreign funds, and imposes heavy fines and criminal penalties for members or leaders of informal associations. Since the Law’s adoption, a number of associations have faced new obstacles in carrying out their activities, with some organizations opting to close down voluntarily rather than confront administrative and legal hurdles.
In addition, in January 2012, Algeria’s government adopted a new Law on Information, which places substantial restrictions on associations’ ability to publish and disseminate information. The law requires all publications to have prior approval from a media regulatory authority. It also restricts expression and access to information that relates to certain subject areas, such as national identity, sovereignty, the economy, and national security. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 32 provisions of the information law can be used to repress free expression; many are broadly written and could serve as a pretext for unwarranted censorship. Violations under this law can result in fines of up to 500,000 dinars (about $6,700 US).
Most recently, Algeria’s Parliament in February 2016 adopted a series of constitutional amendments. The government had first pledged to reform the constitution in response to popular protests in 2011, and it was hoped that the new reforms would help to strengthen Algeria’s democracy and its framework for fundamental rights. Among other things, the 2016 amendments reintroduce a two-term limit on the presidency, provide for the creation of an independent election commission, and expand on existing protections for the freedoms of assembly and the media. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen if and how the new constitutional provisions will bring about meaningful change for the Algerian people.