Journalist sentenced in absentia on defamation charge

New York, July 25, 2001 — The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by the recent trial and sentencing of Algerian journalist Faouzia Ababsa, managing editor of the French-language daily L’Authentique, on defamation charges.

On July 11, Ababsa was convicted in absentia of defaming Abdelkarim Mahmoudi, president of the Confederation of Finance Managers, a private trade association. The charge was based on a May 2000 article in which the journalist accused Mahmoudi of misusing the organization’s funds.

Ababsa told CPJ that she had testified four months ago before a judge who was investigating the defamation charges. But Ababsa only became aware of the trial on July 12, when she learned from an article in the newspaper Al Shorouk Al Arabi that she had been sentenced a day earlier to a suspended six-month prison sentence and a 1500 dinar (US$20) fine.

Ababsa said she was never even notified that the trial was taking place.

Rather than appeal the verdict, Ababsa rejected it altogether and wrote to the Ministry of Justice demanding an official investigation of the trial.

“It is outrageous that Ababsa faced criminal prosecution for writing a newspaper article, and doubly outrageous that she was not given the opportunity to defend herself in court,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call for an immediate investigation of this plainly tainted trial.”