Brutal and violent government repression of worker rights activists has resulted in the death of a community guardian and the disappearance of four others in Algeria.

On July 11, 2012, some 45,000 community guardians engaged in a peaceful march, following the 30-mile-long route between Blida and the capital city of Algiers. They planned to submit a petition to the minister of the interior protesting their precarious working conditions. But a 2,000-strong force of riot police used water cannons and extreme violence to break up the march in the suburb of Birkhadem, resulting in more than 700 arrests. Those detained were subjected to inhumane treatment and violence. Four persons have simply disappeared, an ominous echo of behavior last seen during the dark years of Algeria’s national tragedy, the bloody civil war of the 1990s in which nearly 150,000 people were killed and thousands disappeared. One community guardian, Said Lasfer, died on July 12 as a result of blows and injuries he suffered at the hands of the police.

Community guardians are a form of paramilitary police established during the years of the national tragedy. They now suffer doubly—not only from the emotional trauma of what they witnessed during those years of civil war, but also from precarious and unacceptable levels of pay and benefits.

Nassira Ghozlane, general secretary of the independent and autonomous Algerian trade union SNAPAP, is calling on civil society, human rights activists, autonomous unions, and all those who fight for the return of justice and freedom of expression in Algeria to condemn the use of violence, repression, and attacks on basic human dignity.

These incidents continue the pattern of systematic repression against trade union activism and peaceful protest in Algeria by the authorities that have been denounced by the AFL-CIO.

“We call upon the Algerian government to immediately cease harassing trade union activists engaging in their right to freedom of association and expression, to release four persons still unaccounted for, and to conduct an independent investigation into the causes of the death of Said Lasfer,” said SNAPAP’s Ghozlane. “The government of Algeria must open meaningful avenues for dialogue with independent unions and labor activists with an aim of finding solutions to the very real problems of workers in Algeria.”

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