IFJ Condemns Arrest of Algerian Publishers Following Publication of Controversial Cartoons

The International Federation of Journalists denounced today the arrest of the publishers of Errissala (The Letter) and Essafir (The Ambassador) after they reprinted cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Postens which have led to protests from Muslim communities around the world.

The two weeklies were suspended. Last week the publisher of the weekly Iqra (Read) was jailed and the paper suspended for the same reason. The row over the publications led to the calling of a disciplinary council of the Directors of TV channels A3 and Canal Algérie, which are affiliated to the State TV (ENTV). Both were demoted from their responsibilities and positions.

“These actions are unconscionable,” said Bertrand Ginet, IFJ Programme officer. “These journalists have, in the spirit of informing the public, tried to report this controversy in context and with respect to the sensitivities of their readers. Their decisions can be debated within journalism, but they should not become scapegoats and the victims of direct political intimidation.”

The IFJ called today, through its regional centre in Algiers, for more “debate and consideration of how journalists respond to this crisis given the tense situation.”

“The debate should be conducted by media professionals, not by governments” said Nadir Benseba, Coordinator of the IFJ centre. “The swift pace in the adoption of sanctions is a worrying sign that pressures and legal attacks might turn into a new wave of repression against independent voices”.

The IFJ noted that Bachir Larabi, correspondent of the Arabic daily El Khabar, charged and tried on January 21st, is still in prison, while Mohamed Benchicou, former Editor of the daily Le Matin, has been in custody since June 14th , 2004.

The IFJ says that 18 journalists have been condemned to jail by Algerian courts last year. These are: Farid Alilat (1 year) ; Fouad Boughanem (1 year) ; Sid Ahmed Sémiane (1 year) ; Kamel Amarni (1 year) ; Ali Dilem (1 year) ; Malika Boussouf (6 months) ; Hakim Laalam (6 months) ; Nacer Belhadjoudja (6 months) ; Mohamed Benchicou (5 months in 2005, but he has been detained since 2004) ; Yasmine Ferroukhi (3 months) ; Youcef Rezzoug (3 months) ; Djameleddine Benchenouf (3 months) ; Abla Chérif (2 months) ; Badis Massaoui (2 months) ; Hassane Zerrouki (2 months) ; Ghanem Khemis (2 months) ; Abdelkader Djemâa (2 months) ; Abder Bettache (2 months). Dozens of other journalists have been tried and sentenced to suspended prison sentences.

“The authorities should release these colleagues and permit a robust and wide-ranging public debate,” said Ginet. “Political intervention only undermines free expression and reduces morale in journalism.”

The IFJ called for a “robust debate” between media professionals, which will begin in Brussels with a meeting of media professional groups tomorrow.

To express your opinion on this debate, read the IFJ blog and send your comments: http://www.ifj.org/Blog-fr.asp  

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 100 countries