Women's rights activists in Algeria threatened with acid attacks

Screenshot of a video posted by a man in which he calls for acid attacks on feminist activists in Algeria (left); an activist in Algeria putting up a poster protesting the country's restrictive family code (right).
Screenshot of a video posted by a man in which he calls for acid attacks on feminist activists in Algeria (left); an activist in Algeria putting up a poster protesting the country's restrictive family code (right).

A man   who called for acid attacks   on women's rights activists during the April 5 protests in Algeria was forced to apologise after a public outcry. But the harm caused by his video, posted on Facebook earlier this week, has already been done, says our Observer, an activist who has received several threats of acid attacks.

An Algerian man living in the United Kingdom posted a Facebook video on April 3 calling for acid attacks against female activists participating in Friday's protest. The weekly mass demonstrations, now in their third month, led to the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and protesters are now demanding an overhaul of the entire political system.

In the video, the man, who appears to be in his 30s, said that people would attack the women with "no mercy," even those standing on street corners   away from the center of the protests. "You women calling for freedom and who go out on Fridays to hang posters, who yell at people, and who say you are looking for freedom, freedom for women, I am going to tell you something: you'll be covered in acid!” the man says.

After online users swiftly identified him and filed a complaint, the man posted a second video apologising for his threats and explained that he had lashed out in "anger." He then contacted several women's rights activists to ask them to delete his video from their Facebook pages, according to Daria (not her real name), an activist with the group "Femmes insoumises," or Women Unsubdued, who received one such request.

"We won’t give up because we are a part of this country”

Daria, who lives in the Mediterranean coast city of Béjaïa, said the man left her a voicemail on Wednesday.

He said, “I’m the one who made the video about the acid. Please delete it from your page. I'm going to try to make another video to make things better.” I asked him to make another video stating clearly that people should not to carry out acid attacks against women’s rights activists. But he didn’t do that, he just settled for apologies.

After his video was posted, we received numerous threats of acid attacks, rape, and murder. [Editor’s note: The Observers team viewed these messages and will not publish them due to their violent nature.] These hateful messages were then shared on pages that have more than a million members, many of whom are teenagers who might easily be influenced.

Some of these people managed to get a lot of Facebook pages that promote women's rights deleted by reporting them en masse. Our Femmes insoumises page was deleted and my own page was also blocked.

We noticed that a lot of the men who sent us death threats are living abroad. But many Algerians also messaged us saying that they had reported the man who made the video to the British police. Others alerted the French police.

We've received many messages of support from Algerians on social media.

One Twitter user reminded people to take screenshots of threats of acid attacks and file police complaints, adding that, "The fight for women's rights is also a man's fight!"

Repeal of the Algerian family code

Women’s rights activists have joined the widespread political protests in Algeria in recent weeks, with a new demand: the repeal of the family code, which severely limits women's rights in marriage. Their presence has riled some protesters, who on March 29 surrounded and shouted insults at a group of women carrying a banner that called for gender equality in front of a university building in Algiers.

An activist using the pseudonym Milord Barzotti, who is a friend of our Observer Daria, was shoved that day as she hung posters calling for the repeal of the family code. Daria told The Observers that the poster campaign was part of a coordinated effort from several Facebook groups, including Femmes insoumises, Les Algériennes   (Algerian Women), Enough Algeria, and Srabbles, planned before the political protests began in mid-February.

On March 29, Milord Barzotti from Enough Algeria was hanging up posters in Algiers, and I was doing the same thing in Bejaïa. A group of people grabbed them from her, then began shoving and shouting insults at her. A video of the assault was shared widely on social media.

In Bejaïa, people came up to me and told me that it was not the right moment to call for women’s rights. They said it would be better to stick to slogans calling for regime change. That’s their opinion and they had the right to express it as long as they remained respectful toward me.

After we shared this campaign on social media, we got a ton of death threats.

An activist from Femmes insoumises hanging up posters on March 29.

Posters from Femmes insoumises in Béjaïa, Algeria.

Despite the intimidation and the harassment, we aren’t going to give up. We have been criticising the system for years through our campaigns for women’s rights. We are part of this country.