IFJ Welcomes Liberation of Benchicou, Demands Lifting of Jail Threats and Seeks “Fresh Start” for Press Freedom in Algeria

The International Federation of Journalists today welcomed the imminent release of Algerian journalist, Mohamed Benchicou who has been in prison for two years for his critical commentaries of the local government and called now for the threat of jail to be lifted from over 20 more.

Benchicou, the managing editor of the daily newspaper Le Matin, is due to be released tomorrow from the El Harrach prison after he was detained on 14 June 2004.

“We are delighted that Mohamed is finally to be released but even as we applaud this good news, we remain extremely worried over the fate of at least 20 other journalists who are still facing jail,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is time for a fresh start for press freedom in Algeria, an end to detention of editors and reporters and the elimination of all repression of journalists.”

Benchicou was widely known for his role in the Algerian presidential campaign during which he wrote a pamphlet entitled Bouteflika, the Algerian impostor. Two years ago, he was condemned to jail for an alleged “infraction in money exchange regulation” after cash vouchers in dinars were found in his luggage at the airport in Algiers in August 2003.

“The Benchicou affair exposed a corrupt and politicised judiciary system which we have seen turn and twist in a comedy of errors over the past two years,” says Nadir Benseba, the Executive Coordinator of the IFJ Office in Algiers. “We must now set our other colleagues free and push for the decriminalising of press offences in Algeria.”

There have been numerous attacks on press freedom in Algeria since the reelection of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2004. More than 20 journalists were sentenced to prison terms in Algeria in 2005 and 2006 : 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 (in jail 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) ; and Abder Bettache (2 months). Dozen of others have been given suspended sentences, forcing them to self-censor their own work to avoid being sent to jail.

“All of these colleagues are victims of a campaign against free expression which casts a shadow over democracy in Algeria,” said White. “It must end now.”

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