IFJ Renews Call for Release of Algerian Journalist Mohamed Benchicou

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) at a press conference in Brussels today, renewed its call for the release of Mohamed Benchicou and the decriminalisation of press offences in Algeria.


“This 14th day of June is a symbol for all journalists that are being harassed, oppressed and imprisoned by their governments,” says Bertrand Ginet, IFJ Programme Officer. “Mohamed Benchicou is a figure of the Algerian press and whose immediate release we are expressly requesting for. The fact that he today “celebrates” his first year of imprisonment, demonstrates how much the principles of the State of law has been led astray in Algeria”.


Mohamed Benchicou, the Managing Editor of Matin, was condemned one year ago to two years of imprisonment for an “infraction in money exchange regulation” after cash vouchers denominated in dinars were found in his luggage at the airport in Algiers in August 2003. In fact, this parody of justice hardly conceals the logic of inquisition that seeks to silence one of the most virulent critics of the Algerian system. M. Benchicou was widely known for taking part in the Algerian presidential campaign during which he wrote a pamphlet entitled: “Bouteflika, the Algerian impostor”.


“The Benchicou affair results from a depraved politico-judiciary system which thenceforth, organises a parody of justice on Tuesdays with the aim of imprisoning other journalists,” says Nadir Benseba, the Executive Coordinator of the IFJ Office in Algiers. “We are calling not only for the release of Benchicou, but also for the decriminalisation of press offences in Algeria.”


On 8 June the European parliament adopted a resolution which has added credibility and more weight to the international campaign requesting the release of Benchicou and an immediate stop to the legal processes that are threatening the other journalists.


Hélène Flautre, President of the Human Rights sub Commission in the European parliament, has pledged her willingness to engage in the struggle for the respect of the freedom of expression and Human Rights in Algeria. “The European parliament resolution shall henceforth be one of the bases of discussion with the Algerian authorities,” she said, adding that the Benchicou affair has demonstrated the vague desires of freedom of the 2001 legal reform code, in spite of the initial guarantees given by the authorities. It shows that the “European parliament is going to request the Commission and the European Union Council within the framework of the evaluation of the association agreement with Algeria, to take on their Algerian interlocutors on the repeated attempts against press freedom in Algeria”. Before ending her intervention, Madam Flautre noted that “the recent European parliamentary resolution did not come from the blue; to the contrary, it is the result of a constant vigilance and a real determination of European parliamentarians.”


Aziouz Mokhtari, the correspondent of Le Soir D’Alger in Brussels added that “the Benchicou affair is a symbol of censorship, but also of the decrepitude of a legal system manipulated by some political headers”. He also read a letter from Mr. Benchicou who called on his colleagues “to main the pressure through mobilisation and to continue to be the voice of the voiceless”.


IFJ calls on all of its affiliate members as well as professional journalist organisations in the world, to seize this opportunity and condemn the arrest of Mohamed Benchicou and the rerouting of the Algerian conscience against journalists at all Algerian embassies. It also calls on journalist trade unions to pile pressure on the national authorities so that they will insist on the release of Mr. Benchicou.


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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries