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Dozens of journalists under arrest and imprisoned in Algeria

2018-12-22

Algeria: Said Boudour

After ten years of reviewing the Algerian penal code, and the lifting of the prison sentence for offenses related to the press work, and after the amendment of the constitution in 2016 and the official issuance of Article 50, which stipulates the lifting of the penalty that would deprive journalists of their freedoms because of their writings, the political authority in Algeria contradicts its legislative and constitutional reforms. In fact, within a month, six journalists have been imprisoned between October and November on charges of libel in court files, along with many other public law charges.

“Adlan Malah”, the journalist and director of the electronic newspaper “Dzair Presse”, has never thought that he could be prisoned because of his participation, in a solidarity stand (22 October), in front of the Press House “Taher Jawout”, in the capital, to ask for the release of the journalist, “Said Chitour”, who was accused of “spying”.

“Adlan Malah”, the former director of “Beur TV”, did not benefit from President Bouteflika's message on the occasion of the National Press Day in 2013, when he called on all the Algerian journalists saying: "The written press has developed over the past two decades, as it has reached more than 150 newspapers, as well as, the establishment of more than 20 private TV channels in the audio-visual media sector, and this was reinforced by electronic newspapers, which contribute to the boosting of the national media as well as the various public media… Shedding light on the shortcomings that exist in our vast country or those deviations that appear here and there by the media is a valuable contribution to the evaluation of matters and to the strengthening of the rule of law. I call all the journalists, men and women, to do well their job, under the protection of God, the state and the law. I urge you in this regard to help in guiding the society to the right direction ... "

Thus, President Bouteflika admitted to journalists such as “Adlan Malah” that "e-newspapers are an important gain to the media sector, and they must play their role in guiding society and the national public opinion, in return for providing guarantees of state and law protection.

However, as if this call had been issued by the president of "Zimbabwe" or "Venezuela". It is ironical, as what happened was just the opposite, as the journalist, “Adlan Malah”, was summoned to the National Gendarmerie in the afternoon, where they arrested him and stormed his home. He was also subjected to torture according to media statements of a lawyer, which were followed by the public prosecution’s statement denying his torture or receiving any complaint about it. He is still in jail. In fact, the Indictment Chamber refuses his provisional release, as he is a journalist accused of libel and defamation. In fact, other charges of general law were added to his file to cover his imprisonment decision. As a result, “Adlan Malah” entered in an open hunger strike and asked to be released, in light of a wave of anger among people supporting him in the streets.

One of his lawyers, professor “Abdel Ghani Badi” revealed that: "“Adlan Malah” ‘s release is the victory and success of Article 50 of the constitution and the struggle of his supporters for national and international human rights organizations ...".

Moreover, the journalist, “Abdurrahman Mohammad Samar”, didn’t believe that his leftist positions, which were revealed in some television shows, would lead to his arrest. As for the same reason, he was formerly punished when the authorities banned some of his TV shows like “Ki Hna Ki Ness” and the closure of KBC TV. In fact, he did not expect to be arrested, without taking the legislative reforms

into consideration, before the filing of any formal complaint against him. His 57 lawyers, who plead at a court hearing, the first of its kind in the court of “Bir Murad Reiss” in Algiers, said that their client was imprisoned without the prosecution’s objection on violations described as "crime" during the course of the investigation at the Gendarmerie and that their client was imprisoned without the issuance of a complaint against him, as he was arrested through a phone call. In fact, he was arrested by the Gendarmerie, which stopped him at 2 pm on last 23 October, and summoned the complainer to file the complaint at 5 pm of the same day. In addition, the prosecution approved the request to order for the search in the journalist’s house, although that the charges attributed to him are linked to the search of the headquarters his journal, as he runs a website, rather than his residence.

The number of violations grew even bigger, especially when “Marwan Boudiab”, the journalist and “Abdurrahman Mohammad Samar” ’s best friend, was also arrested. In fact, he accompanied him to the National Gendarmerie's headquarters on October 23, and then was imprisoned for fake charges, as he refused to provide the National Gendarmerie with information about his colleague “Abdurrahman Mohammad Samar”, his movements and his professional and personal relationships. On November 8th, after international and national pressures, as a reaction to this “judiciary crime” against a well-known journalist, the judge of the court of “Bir Murad Reiss” decided after 8 hours of the trial to release the journalists “Abdul Rahman Samar” and “Marwan Boudiab”, with a new re-investigation.

At a time when many human rights activists, independent syndicates and journalists working in e-newspapers were standing in solidarity with the imprisoned journalists who were imprisoned, “Abdul Rahman Samar”, “Marwan Boudiab”, “Adlan Malah”; other journalists were also arrested, like the director of “Aljazair24” website, “Elyes Hadibi”, the director of "Sarbakan" radio station, “Abdul Karim Zgilich”. These arrests spread fear among the journalists.

As the national and international public opinion was looking for the news of the four imprisoned journalists, the national Gendarmerie arrested journalist “Elyes Hadibi” and brought him to justice, which ordered his imprisonment because of his Internet activity. On October 31st, the police department of the city of Constantine, east of the country, arrested the director of "Sarbakan" radio station, which broadcasts on the web. He was charged based on two stages of investigation. The first was libel, defamation, insulting an employee and harming the private lives of persons. Then, the court judge ordered him to be imprisoned until his trial, where he was also accused by a judge of the Zeidiya Court in Constantine, for opening a radio without a license, interference in the affairs of public authorities, insulting the president of the republic, as well as, the defamation and humiliation of an employee.

Thus, the situation has become serious in Algeria, not only for journalists, but to any citizen. All the freedoms stipulated in the international conventions and the Algerian Constitution are in danger; which sparked the anger of people on social media, who even decided to launch a protest in the capital and in Oran, then in the central and western “Bejaia” and “Ghizlan”. They decided to reopen the file of hundreds of innocent people, who were imprisoned because of their opinions on the social media. The Algerian Syndicate of Internet Publishers has been active in several press conferences in order to confront the political authority that prevented the holding of its founding general assembly. Thus, the debate was controversial once again on the extent to which Algeria's judiciary is independent and the influence of the political authorities.

“Abdel-Ghani Badi”, a lawyer, commented on this atmosphere as a "crisis of freedoms", which resulted in the temporary release of all journalists with the re-imprisonment of “Adlan Malah” on charges of unarmed assembly and civil disobedience a week ago. In fact, more than 35 lawyers

decided to withdraw from his trial, as they considered it as a "political play" as described by the Dean of Jurists and Lawyers, Professor “Mustafa Bushashi”. Consequently, many hashtags circulated in the social media:

In solidarity with the defence of “Adlan Malah”

Press in Algeria is not a crime