Deputies Pass Harsh Criminal Defamation Law

New York, May 18, 2001 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed deep concern about the Algerian Parliament’s recent approval of new legislation that stiffens criminal penalties for defamation.

On May 16, according to local news reports, the lower house of Parliament—the National People’s Assembly—approved new amendments to the Algerian Penal Code that prescribe imprisonment and heavy fines for individuals found guilty of defaming the President of the Republic or other state institutions such as the army or judiciary.

Although these penalties are milder than those in the draft legislation proposed by the Algerian government, they still prescribe between two months and one year in jail or a fine of 50,000­250,000 dinars (US$650­$3,500). The authors of news articles, responsible editors, and publishers are equally liable for defamation. Allegedly defamatory publications, meanwhile, can be fined from 50,000 to 2,500,000 dinars (US$650­$32,000).

The law currently awaits approval by the Algerian Senate.

“Parliament has given its imprimatur to a law that violates basic international standards for free expression,” said CPJ Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna. “Criminal defamation laws, especially those providing special protections for heads of state or government bodies, have no place in an open society.”

“This law sends a chilling message to journalists and can only stifle open discourse in the Algerian press,” Campagna added. “We urge the Senate to reject it.”