Seven prison guards and an inmate suffocated to death in a septic tank in Algeria’s north-eastern province of Bejaia on Wednesday.
It’s thought the men died after inhaling the toxic gas hydrogen sulphide, Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati said on Wednesday.
Local media report that the men had been cleaning the tank in Oued Ghir prison when they died.
Their bodies have been taken to a nearby hospital for autopsies.
AFP news agency reports that Oued Ghir prison opened in 2010 and authorities at the time said the facility “meets modern standards”.
Why Algeria’s feminists no longer work in secret
Algerian women, buoyed by the mass street protests that been demanding political change in the North Africa nation, are determined to be seen and heard.
The anti-government movement, known as the Hirak, started two years ago, bringing down a president within months – forcing Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign in April 2019.
“We have this longing to gather in public places. Feminists used to work secretively out of fear until the Hirak took place,” 34-year-old feminist activist Amal Hajjaj told the BBC.
During the 20 years Mr Bouteflika was in power Ms Hajjaj says that the feminist movement was undocumented and that a media “blackout” was imposed on it.
“Most feminist groups were established in the 1990s. Try to look for anything about them or women’s demands, you’ll find nothing. You’ll find the result of their fight, such as some law changes, attributed either to Bouteflika or the opposition.”
In March 2019, following calls to keep the Hirak focused on political goals, both old and new feminist groups met for the first time and agreed to form Feminist Square, an umbrella organisation.
This collective effort was aimed at preventing history from repeating itself – from marginalising women’s demands amid a national movement.
Since its creation, Feminist Square has been taking to the streets regularly to re-claim the public space.
In addition, the group has done a lot during the pandemic in terms of trying to curb violence against women and coming up with a strategy to protect them, says Ms Hajjaj.
Top of the group’s demands remains the creation of a civil family law to replace the one issued in 1984.
That is known as the “family code” – its most controversial articles are the ones that give men more power when it comes to decisions related to women marriage.
Feminist Square wants women to be guaranteed equal rights without any reference to Islamic law – a demand that has always caused a heated debate in the mainly Muslim country.
“The election law, for instance, recognises women as citizens. Women also pay taxes, transports fees and rents – just like men. Only the family law does not see women as citizens,” says Ms Hajjaj