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Algerian police release journalists detained for protesting against censorship

A dozen members of the media detained after railing against restrictions on reporting anti-Bouteflika protests
A demonstrator holds up a placard during a protest against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking a fifth term (Reuters)

A dozen journalists rallying against alleged censorship of protests against Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were arrested in Algiers on Thursday and released hours later, the AFP news agency reported.

The journalists were participating in a 100-person strong protest against what they said were state-backed efforts to muzzle coverage of demonstrations against Bouteflika running for a new presidential term.

Police drove them to a police station, witnesses and colleagues said, as reported by Reuters, and released them several hours later.

Leila Beratto, a journalist working with Radio France Internationale, posted on Twitter that she was released. "I'm out. Thank you for your messages. Everything is okay," she wrote.

Translation: "I'm out. Thank you for your messages. Everything is okay."

Bouteflika, 81, has held power since 1999 despite several bouts of ill health. He has declared he will run again for the presidency in Algeria’s 18 April elections.

In response protests have erupted in and around the capital Algiers and other cities in the North African country over the past week.

On Thursday, some 100 journalists, both from print and online, congregated in central Algiers, railing against apparent reporting restrictions.

The journalists, who work for both state-owned and private outlets, said they have been unable to carry out their work properly since protests broke out on Friday.

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"Free our colleagues," the remaining journalists shouted as those arrested were taken away in the back of police vans. "Fourth estate, not a press that follows orders."

Protests against the continuing rule of Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and is Algeria’s longest-serving president, have attracted huge crowds.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of students took to the streets chanting "peaceful, peaceful" and "no to a fifth term", according to the Reuters news agency. Protests in the Algerian capital are banned.

Despite the large protests seen repeatedly over recent days, their absence on private channels and the state broadcaster has been conspicuous.

Radio journalists working for state media said they have been ordered not to cover them.

Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accused Algerian authorities on Tuesday of attempting to "muzzle" the media.

Bouteflika is widely expected to win April’s elections, as he has the backing of the ruling National Liberation Front party, as well as several other influential political parties and trade unions. Meanwhile, Algeria’s opposition is weak and fractured.