The International Federation of Journalists today condemned a series of indictments issued last Tuesday by the Algiers Public Prosecutor's Office against four journalists and the managing editor of the independent daily, Le Matin. The paper has been suspended since 23 July 2004.
Youcef Rezzoug, Yasmine Ferroukhi, Abla Chérif, Hassane Zerrouky and Mohamed Benchicou were summoned in two successive trials on 15 March 2005, in connection with allegations of racketeering made against several politicians and charges of financial mismanagement made against the Sonatrach oil company in a 7 August 2003 article. The defence refuted the accusations point by point, drawing on information published in the national and international press which supported the allegations in the article.
Nevertheless, the State held the journalists personally and directly accountable for the charges. The Prosecutor's Office requested a six-month prison term with no parole and a 50,000 dinar fine (approx. US$710; 550 euros) for each of the accused, despite the fact that the civil plaintiffs had requested only "a symbolic dinar" fine in both cases.
Mohamed Benchicou was summoned to appear before the court in both cases. The managing editor of Le Matin, who has already spent more than eight months in prison, also faces another six-month term. The sentence would be a symbolic one as Benchicou is already serving a two year prison term, which precludes cumulative sentencing.
"The most disturbing element of these repeat hearings is that charges of defamation may be brought against journalists without the plaintiff providing any proof of the offence," said the IFJ's regional coordinator in Algiers, Nadir Benseba. "It is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime to complacently accept such defamation complaints while refusing to accept criticism," he added.
Targeted attacks on journalists in Algeria are facilitated by a Penal Code that is particularly repressive towards the press. Verdicts in the two cases are expected to be announced on 12 April. Observers following the cases fear a worsening of the situation following a recent ban on some foreign publications.
The IFJ calls for a concerted response from the international community in the face of the serious harassment faced by the independent press in Algeria.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries