Journalist imprisoned

New York, June 11, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly protests the ongoing imprisonment of Hafnaoui Ghoul, an Algerian journalist and human rights activist who has been jailed since May 24 on defamation charges.

Ghoul, who writes for the Algerian dailies El-Youm and Djazair News, was detained on May 24 by the police and charged with defaming the local governor, Mohamed Adou, according to local news sources and human rights activists. (Ghoul also runs a regional office of the Algerian League for Human Rights in Djelfa, which is 186 miles, or 300 kilometers, south of the capital, Algiers.) Ghoul was arrested because of an article he wrote for Djazair News and an interview he gave to the French-language daily Le Soir D’Algerie. In the article, the journalist accused local officials, including Adou, of misusing public funds, and in the interview, he blamed Djelfa officials for the death of several premature babies at the local public hospital in early May.

On May 26, a Djelfa court convicted Ghoul of the charges based on the Djazair News article and sentenced him to a six-month prison sentence. Normally, Ghoul would have been released pending appeal. But in a move described as unusual by journalists and human rights activists, authorities continued to detain Ghoul because of other pending defamation cases against him.

On Wednesday, June 9, Ghoul was convicted in another case in a Djelfa court, which sentenced him to two months in prison for the interview he had given to Le Soir D’Algerie. Local officials, including Adou, have filed more than a dozen additional cases against Ghoul, according to local journalists and human rights activists.

Defamation remains a criminal offense in Algeria, where authorities routinely try journalists and other critics under tough penal laws. Amendments to Algeria’s press law made in June 2001 stipulate that journalists can be imprisoned for up to one year and fined if they are found guilty of defaming the president or a public official.

Algerian authorities have recently stepped up judicial harassment of journalists who have reported on corruption and other official misdeeds by questioning journalists and filing defamation suits against them, according to local journalists.

“The imprisonment of Hafnaoui Ghoul is a direct attack on the most basic principles of press freedom,” said CPJ Deputy Director Joel Simon. “Hafnaoui Ghoul should be released immediately, and the judicial harassment of journalists should stop.”