This blog post contains information adapted with permission from blog posts by Algerian journalist Abdou Semmar. Abdou’s original posts appeared on Global Voices earlier this year. They can be viewed here and here in French and here in English.
The video above captures the February 5th 2014 murder of 21-year-old student Azzedine Babaousmail. His killing took place in the central Algerian city of Ghardaia and is the latest in a pattern of violence targeting Algerian Mozabites, a Berber minority group that followed the Ibadi sect of Islam. The video opens with images of a young man being pulled along by a group of people. An assailant with a knife pushes through the crowd and stabs him in the back. As the video continues, multiple perpetrators are shown brandishing weapons and stabbing Babousmail on various parts of his body. The video’s uploader slowed down and edited the footage to isolate the faces and actions of the aggressors. At the end, Babousmail is pulled behind a wall and stabbed multiple times by a man who remains visible to the camera. As Algerian video activist Abdou Semmar reports on Global Voices, Babousmail was later found dead with more than 20 stabs wounds throughout his body.
Video Activism Prompted Investigation
Semmar notes that Algerian authorities initially showed little interest in investigating the murder. Pressure increased to open an investigation after video activists posted footage of the crime on YouTube and sent video to Algerian citizen media collective, Envoyés Spéciaux Algériens and an independent news website, Algérie-Focus. The following day, after a 38-year-old Mozabite father of two was murdered (as Algerian police reportedly looked on) the story was picked up by the Associated Press.
A still image from the 5th video in the playlist which captures police brutality against Mozabites in Ghardaia in March 2013.
Most Algerian Mozabites live in the province of Ghardaia. Its capital city (also named Ghardaia) is one of the only cities in Algeria where Sunnis and Mozabites live together. While the two groups have lived in relative peace for centuries, there have been periods of violence between the two groups, most recently in the early 2000s and then again in 2008. In the past few years, the region has experienced high unemployment, which many believe has fueled the recent rise in ethnic tensions between Mozabites and Sunni Algerians. These economic difficulties have also led to intermittent protests during which Mozabites report they are mistreated by the Algerian police, who are predominantly Sunni.
A still from the 2nd video in the playlist showing police beating a Mozabite protestor on January 20th 2014.
Videos in the playlist show repeated instances from the last year and a half in which police employed violent physical tactics to repress and detain peaceful protesters in Ghardaia. In a number of cases, arrested Mozabite activists later reported that they were tortured while in custody and charged with unrelated crimes such as “desecration of a flag” and “insulting a constitutional body.”
The most recent protests and resulting clashes occurred in November, 2013, and again in January, 2014, prompting the Algerian government to send in 3,000 additional officers after a Berber shrine was desecrated and over 30 businesses were looted and set on fire. Mozabites and Sunnis blame each other for provoking the recent surge in violence, looting and instability.
Challenges for Video Activists:
While the violence continues, Semmar reports that video activists in Ghardaia are determined to capture these abuses on video and share them online. Engaging in these activities can put video activists at great risk of reprisals both for filming and posting footage online. Due to the high-risk nature of this work, many activists save their video in multiple formats and locations in case their footage is confiscated or destroyed. Activists also work in teams to coordinate locations and schedules and ensure that footage is captured.