Algeria criminalises 'fake news' deemed harmful to 'public order and state security'

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Algerian members of parliament have passed a law criminalising the broadcast of "fake news" that is deemed harmful to "public order and state security".

The law, opposed by protesters and rights activists, is part of reforms to the penal code. It was put before parliament, debated and then approved in a morning session on Wednesday, according to state TV.

The chamber was nearly empty due to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures.

A second bill penalising discrimination and hate speech was passed in the same sitting after a short debate, state TV reported.

The move comes after Algeria's anti-establishment protest movement suspended its street rallies last month in a voluntary bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It also comes amid increasing repression of opposition and media in the country during recent months.

Protesters began staging weekly demonstrations in February 2019, after the ruling National Liberation Front announced that Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria's longest-serving president, would seek a fifth term in the office.

The demonstrations quickly forced Bouteflika, a wheelchair-bound 82-year-old rarely seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013, to step down, but people continued to gather every Friday for months after his fall in a bid to force major institutional reform.

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