ALGIERS- Algeria on Wednesday jailed its once-untouchable spy chief and three other figureheads of the ruling elite as the army seeks to quell mass protests demanding a purge of old power brokers.
The military court in Blida, south of Algiers, issued 15-year terms for “conspiring against the army” and against “the authority of the state” to Mohamed Mediene, Bachir Tartag, Said Bouteflika and Louisa Hanoune, giving them 10 days to appeal.
It was the first judgment handed down to senior figures held during the mass protests which erupted in February after veteran former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the older brother of Said Bouteflika, said he would seek a fifth term in office.
They have included two former prime ministers, 11 ex-ministers and several prominent businessmen close to Bouteflika, many of them on corruption charges.
The arrests were intended to appease the hundreds of thousands of people who poured onto Algerian streets this spring to demand change after decades of unrepresentative rule and growing corruption.
But they also left the army as the main player in Algerian politics, and its chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah has been pushing to end the protests and hold a new presidential election on December 12.
However, tens of thousands of protesters are still marching each week, rejecting the coming election and demanding the army step back from politics. They say any vote that takes place while other senior figures of the old guard remain in power could not be fair or free.
Wednesday’s verdict is the most significant judicial move in Algeria’s history, given the standing and once-pervasive influence of those on trial.
Mediene was reputed for two decades to be the ultimate authority behind the cloak of Algeria’s government, a man whose image was never seen, but who held the fate of presidents, ministers and political opponents in his hand.
Said Bouteflika unofficially ran government from 2013, when his brother suffered a stroke, until April when he was forced to step down. Tartag replaced Mediene as spy chief in 2015. Hanoune was head of a pro-government political party.
The court also handed 20-year jail sentences in absentia to Khaled Nazzar, a former defense minister, and his son Lotfi, both believed to be in Spain and subject to an international arrest warrant, it said in a statement.
“The military court observed all the rights required by a fair trial,” the statement said.