IFJ Denounces Jail Sentences for Algerian Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned today the decision by the Appeal Court of Jijel to hand down jail sentences to two journalists from the Algerian independent press for insulting a local official.

Omar Belhouchet, director of French-language daily newspaper El Watan, and Chawki Amari, an El Watan columnist, were sentenced on Tuesday to two months in jail and fined one million dinars (10 000 euros) for insulting the Wali of Jijel (the state representative in the district). The appeals court confirmed the decision taken by Jijel court of first instance on 27 May 2007.

“The confirmation of this decision in appeal is a sign of the escalation of legal harassment against the profession,” said Nadir Benseba, coordinator of the IFJ Algiers Centre. “The actions against El Watan reflect a pattern of attacks against independent and critical voices over the past decade. It's a systematic process that must stop if Algeria is to have credibility as a democratic country where press freedom can be expressed and where journalists can freely exercise their profession.”

The charges against Belhouchet and Amari stem from an article published in El Watan exposing fraud in the Wilaya.

“We are particularly concerned that the law is being used to prevent genuine investigative journalism into corruption and abuses of power,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White.

The practices of the Wilaya of Jijel have also been exposed in articles published by Arabic-language daily Echourrouk El Youmi. On March 3, the Court of Jijel condemned the paper’s correspondent, Yasser Abdelhaï, to pay a disproportionate fine of four million de dinars (40 000 euros). The journalist was told he must pay the full amount before March 15.

The IFJ's concern follows a mission to country last month to strengthen the organisation of journalists and the work of the Syndicat National des Journalistes (SNJ). The IFJ took note of the recent declarations of the Minister of Communication regarding the government’s willingness to amend the penal code articles providing for journalists’ imprisonment for press offenses. The IFJ asks the authorities to withdraw these charges and promote the strengthening of press freedom in the country.

For further information, contact the IFJ Algiers Centre: +213 21 67 36 61

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide