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Berber activists condemn media silence after police attacks and arrests

BERBER rights activists condemned the media’s silence after a wave of attacks and arrests of those seeking autonomous and cultural freedom in the Kabylie region of Algeria over the weekend.

The Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK) warned today that police showed their true faces after “arbitrary arrests, forced kidnapping … and physical violence” against young activists in Tizi Ouzou to “prevent them from expressing their opinion.”

A statement from the group, which seeks self-government for the Berber-populated region east of the capital Algiers, claimed activists were subjected to hours of “forced interrogation” at police stations after authorities broke up a gathering at the University of Tizi Ouzou.

An MAK spokesman gave his “unconditional support” for those arrested after they displayed the blue, yellow and red Kabylie flag and raised slogans demanding autonomy for the region.

“On the other hand I denounce even more firmly the silence of the media bodies,” he said, warning “if you shut up, you die, and if you speak you die.” He urged the press to speak out against the continued oppression of the Berber people.

The movement for greater autonomy has gained recent momentum. Algeria remains in political deadlock after ailing former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to stand down in April amid huge anti-government protests.

With as many as 13 million of the 41 million population of Algeria, the Berber have been subjected to historical oppression. Their language, customs and culture have previously been banned.

The 1980 Berber Spring saw a renaissance of the movement after months of protests were violently put down by the government. 

A second wave of militancy followed in 2001 after the police killing of Berber student Massinissa Guermah.

At least 126 were killed in the aftermath. The government then ceded limited rights which included recognising Berber as a national language in the 2002 constitution.

Lounes Ath Si Said of the MAK Tizi Ouzou said the struggle was “engraved in [our] hearts” and will be a legacy for future generations.

“Kabylie, let’s walk hand in hand with those who want to help us make this beautiful Kabylie a state of freedom,” he said.

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