A military court in Algeria has sentenced the brother of former President Abdulaziz Bouteflika to 15 years in prison for plotting against the state and undermining the army, according to state media.
Three other co-defendants – two former intelligence chiefs and the head of a political party – were given the same sentence, APS news agency reported on Tuesday.
Said Bouteflika was widely seen as the real power behind the presidency after his brother suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013.
He was arrested in May, along with the two ex-intelligence bosses – Mohamed Mediene and Bachir Tartag – and leftist leader Louisa Hanoune over a meeting in which they allegedly discussed imposing a state of emergency and firing army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah as a last-ditch effort to preserve the rule of the former president.
Bouteflika was forced to quit in April in the face of mass protests against his 20-year-rule. The absence of an elected president has since left the country in constitutional limbo.
Louisa Hanoune, the head of the Workers’ Party, had said the gathering was aimed at resolving Algeria’s political deadlock.
Mediene, widely known as Toufik, headed the all-powerful DRS intelligence agency from its foundation in 1990 up to his fall from grace in 2015. He was replaced by his deputy, Tartag, who served as Algeria’s security coordinator under the supervision of the presidency after the DRS was dismantled in 2016.
All four defendants were convicted of “undermining the authority of the army” and “conspiring” against the state in order to bring about regime change in the run-up to the ageing president’s resignation.
Prosecutors at the military court in Blida, south of the capital, Algiers, had asked for the maximum sentence of 20 years against all the defendants, defence lawyer Miloud Ibrahimi said.
The hearings were restricted to lawyers and defendants’ families only, with media also kept out of the courtroom.
String of prosecutions
Presidential elections have now been set for December 12, but protesters have kept up demands for political reforms and the removal of the former president’s loyalists, including Gaid Salah, who has emerged as a key powerbroker since Bouteflika’s fall.
The grassroots protest movement has been adamant that no election should take place as long as Bouteflika-era officials remain in positions of power. Opposition parties and civil society groups have also demanded constitutional changes and a reform of state institutions, seeking a transition period towards democracy rather than a quick vote.
Earlier this month, thousands of students poured onto the streets of Algiers to demand the postponement of the polls, something that has already happened twice.
The rallies have resumed despite Gaid Saleh’s attempts to quell the weekly Friday protests by ordering the police to stop and seize vehicles transporting demonstrators to the capital.
In recent weeks, the police have made multiple arrests in Algiers before the start of rallies.