4 January 2005


Authorities step up crackdown on the press

Incident details

Fouad Boughanem, Mohamed Bouhamidi, Hakim Laâlam, Kamel Amarni, Mohammed Benchicou, Ali Dilem, Sid Ali Semiane, Ghada Hamrouche, Omar Belhouchet, Salima Tlemçani, Ali Djerri, Redouane Boudjemaa

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(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has condemned judicial harassment of the news media in Algeria after 13 journalists appeared before the Sidi M'Hamed court in Algiers in the space of 24 hours. They face six months to a year in prison.

These trials reflect the situation that has prevailed throughout 2004, an especially hard year for the Algerian news media, the organisation said. Dozens of journalists have received judicial summonses as a result of defamation complaints by the authorities. Threats, censorship, denial of press accreditation, arrests and prison sentences have become their daily lot.

"We roundly condemn the application of prison sentences in defamation cases and we call on the Algerian authorities to amend the Criminal Code and abolish imprisonment for press offences," RSF said, noting that Article 144 of the code provides for sentences of two to 12 months in prison and fines for referring to the president in an insulting or defamatory way.

The fines requested by prosecutors are also totally disproportionate and likely to result in newspapers being forced to close because of financial problems, the organisation added.

On 28 December 2004, Fouad Boughanem, the editor of the daily "Le Soir d'Algérie", and three of his journalists, Mohamed Bouhamidi, Hakim Laâlam and Kamel Amarni, were given one-year suspended sentences by the Sidi M'Hamed court for "insulting the president" and "libel". The newspaper was also fined 2.5 million dinars (approx. US$34,000; 26,000 euros). They were prosecuted for several articles published before the April presidential elections about abuse of authority by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and political corruption.

Boughanem and Laâlam appeared before the same court on the same day in another case. The state prosecutor has requested one-year prison sentences for both of them for an article published in the daily "Liberté" in solidarity with five newspapers that were closed in the summer of 2003. The article is alleged to have libelled the president. A verdict is expected on 11 January 2005.

"Le Matin" managing editor Mohammed Benchicou, cartoonist Ali Dilem and journalists Sid Ali Semiane and Ghada Hamrouche also appeared before the same court. The national Defence Ministry brought libel charges against them over an article by Hamrouche quoting comments by Dilem and Semiane after an earlier prosecution by the ministry was postponed. Dilem and Semiane were sentenced to six months in prison while Hamrouche and Benchicou received six-month suspended sentences. Benchicou has already been serving a two-year prison sentence since 14 June 2004 (for further information, see IFEX alerts of 6 December, 13 August, 25, 17 and 15 June 2004, and others).

In another libel case, the General Directorate for National Security (Direction générale de la sûreté nationale, DGSN) launched legal action against the dailies "El Khabar" and "El Watan" for publishing a letter from police officers criticising the "doings" of the DGSN director-general and secretary-general. Damages of 300 million dinars (approx. US$4.1 million; 3.1 million euros) are being sought. The prosecutor has requested six-month prison sentences for "El Watan" managing editor Omar Belhouchet, reporter Salima Tlemçani, who wrote the article, and "El Khabar" editor Ali Djerri.

Meanwhile, Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalist with the daily "El-Youm", received an 18-month suspended sentence for libel over a series of articles criticising the management of public funds, the choice of programmes and recruitment methods at state television broadcaster ENTV.

Finally, the Arabic-language daily "Essabah" was closed on 1 December, ostensibly due to financial problems. However, all signs indicate that the paper was closed because it published an article about President Bouteflika's alleged attempts to find out about "illegal" money deposited in Switzerland by Algerians.


Reporters Without Borders
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