Foreign media banned from covering prisoner release

New York, July 3, 2003—Algerian authorities banned foreign media from covering yesterday’s release of two convicted leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a group that was outlawed in 1992 when its party was poised to win parliamentary elections. At least two French news crews were expelled today for ignoring the ban.

According to CPJ sources in Algeria, government officials contacted foreign news outlets in the capital, Algiers, and told them they were barred from covering the release of FIS leaders Ali Belhadj and Abassi Madani, who were sentenced to prison in 1992. Madani had been under house arrest since 1997, while Belhadj was held at a prison in Blida, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Algiers.

On July 1, the Communications Ministry contacted the state-run French television stations, France 2 and France 3, and the private French station TF1—who were in Algiers to cover the return of Air France flights to Algeria—telling the outlets that they were not allowed to cover Madani and Belhadj’s release, said a spokesperson for France 2.

The spokesperson said that the three stations managed to circumvent the ban and fed a tape of Belhadj’s prison release to their stations in Paris from their hotel. After the footage aired on French television, police went to the hotel and confiscated the journalists’ equipment. The TF1 team left the country this morning before the official expulsion order came, and Algerian authorities accompanied the France 2 and France 3 journalists to the airport today.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reported that the crew of another French station and a Belgian station were also expelled. CPJ was unable to confirm whether these stations were expelled.

“Preventing journalists from covering a newsworthy event is blatant censorship,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on Algerian authorities to lift these restrictions against journalists and allow the press to do their job freely.”