26 January 2006


"El Khabar" correspondent fined in continuing crackdown on press

Incident details

Bachir El Arabi



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(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of Bachir El Arabi, the correspondent of the Arabic-language daily "El Khabar" in El Bayadh (southwest of Algiers), who was arrested on 21 January 2006 and transferred to Ain Safra prison in execution of a one-month prison sentence for libel that was issued by a court in his absence on 29 September 2005.

"This imprisonment seems aimed at silencing provincial correspondents who pay a high price for exposing corruption among local officials and personalities," the press freedom organisation said. "We call on the authorities to stop harassing journalists and to free El Arabi at once."

Reporters Without Borders added: "This case proves that the authorities are still implementing criminal code provisions allowing journalists to be given prison sentences, contrary to the frequent claims of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, who has said they just have a formal role. We once again call for the decriminalization of press offences as requested by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression."

"El Khabar" editor Ali Djerri was fined 50,000 dinars (578 euros) in the same case, while a one-month prison sentence was also passed on Radjaâ El Houari, a local civil servant who allegedly supplied El Arabi with the documents used in the offending article.

Police arrested El Arabi at home and took him to the Naâma district police station on an arrest warrant issued by a court in Naâma in execution of the sentence passed in absentia on 29 September. He was convicted for articles he wrote for El Khabar under the pseudonym Abdelkarim Sid-el-Hadj about land granted to the president of a charitable association by the local authorities.

In his articles, El Arabi claimed that the land was in fact granted personally to the president rather than the association, as the association was not an approved one. And during the judicial investigation, he produced documents supporting his allegations.

El Arabi is also facing at least six other libel actions brought by local officials in Naâma and El Bayadh, and he had been appearing regularly before the judicial authorities. He began a hunger strike on the day of his arrest.

One other journalist is currently in prison in Algeria. "Le Matin" editor Mohamed Benchicou has been detained since 14 June 2004 although seriously ill.


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