(Sept. 21, 2020) On July 30, 2020, the president of Algeria, Abdel Majid Tebboune, issued an order amending Algeria’s penal code to provide protection for all employees of public and private health institutions against verbal and physical attacks and to punish individuals who sabotage the property of health institutions. (Order No. 01-20 of July 30, 2020, Amending Order No. 156-66 of June 8, 1966, Comprising the Penal Code.) The new amendments, part of the Algerian government’s ongoing economic and rule-of-law reforms, are a response to incidents arising from the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
The president emphasized that health care workers are under the protection of the law and that attackers will face severe penalties ranging between 5 and 10 years of imprisonment.
Tebboune also broadcast a group of motivational messages to health workers over Algerian television channels in addition to issuing a presidential decree that provides for an exceptional allowance of up to 40,000 Algerian dinars (DZD) (about US$310) for the benefit of healthcare professionals currently working on preventing and combating the spread of the coronavirus.
The issuance of the order came after healthcare unions demanded protection for medical personnel from attacks they have faced during and due to their work. In one such attack, members of a family in Bouira province raided the office of the Medina Hospital director, prompting him to flee by jumping from one of the upper floors of the hospital. The attacking group was trying to retrieve the body of a woman who had died in the hospital, contrary to government regulations that require conducting a “corona” analysis of every death and keeping the bodies for a few days pending the release of the test results.
Content of Order 01-20
Order 01-20 punishes anyone who attacks or insults healthcare workers with imprisonment and a fine. In addition, the law aims to prevent trespassing in nonpublic areas of healthcare institutions and punishes acts of sabotage to property and medical equipment. Attackers who cause the death of others may be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Specifically, the new law prescribes a term of 2–5 years’ imprisonment and DZD200,000–500,000 (about US$1,550–$3,880) for anyone who insults healthcare professionals verbally or in writing while they are performing their tasks. (Art. 149.) Additionally, the law punishes attackers who physically assault healthcare workers with 2–8 years of imprisonment. It defines the term “assault” as “any use of violent force or threat to use force that results in creating panic or fear in others.” (Art. 149 bis.) If the physical assault results in a serious injury or was premediated, the term of imprisonment is 5–12 years and the fine is DZD500,000–1,200,000 (about US$3,880–$9,305). (Art. 149 bis 1.)
Under the law, the destruction of a healthcare institution’s property is punishable by a term of imprisonment of 2–5 years and a fine of DZD200,000–500,000. The punishment is increased to imprisonment for 3–10 years if the destruction results in the total or partial dysfunction of the health institution. (Art. 149 bis 2.)
The law also imposes a punishment of 2–5 years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 200,000–500,000 on anyone who intends to damage the reputation of healthcare professionals by posting misleading photos or videos online or in social media (art. 149 bis 3), and enables the confiscation of the devices by which the crime was committed, the closure of the site or the electronic account through which the crime was carried out, and the closure of the digital platform if the crime was carried out with the knowledge of its owner (art. 149 bis 9).
The new law also doubles the penalty for a crime in the event of recidivism. (Art. 149 bis 12.) Finally, the law states that legal persons who commit one of these crimes are also punishable according to the law’s provisions. (Art. 149 bis 14.)
Reaction to the Law
The representatives of professional unions of health-sector workers welcomed the decision to pass this law. These unions, which include the National Syndicate of Free Doctors, Algerian Syndicate of Paramedics, National Syndicate for Public Health Practice, and National Union of University Hospital Research Professors, agreed that the order amending the penal code is a good step toward addressing the verbal and physical abuse of medical workers. At the same time, however, they argue that preventive measures and the enforcement of penalties are not enough, What is needed, they claim, is the reform of the whole health system and an increase in public awareness of the importance of respecting the medical profession.