Government suspends Al-Jazeera’s bureau operations

New York, July 1, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by the Algerian government’s decision to suspend operations of the local office of the Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera.

According to press reports and journalists in the capital, Algiers, the Ministry of Communications ordered Al-Jazeera’s Algiers bureau to suspend its newsgathering operations yesterday. The ministry did not provide a reason.

Agence-France Presse quoted Mohamed Daho, Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Algiers, as saying that the suspension would be in effect “until further notice.” He said he was “not given any explanation other than the fact that foreign correspondents’ work is being reorganized and I could resume my activities afterwards.”

Local journalists said the government is drafting a law to govern the conduct of both foreign correspondents working in Algeria and Algerian journalists working for foreign news outlets.

Al-Jazeera has been critical of the Algerian government. In a recent episode of the program “The Opposite Direction,” a former Algerian diplomat who now lives in London criticized President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his policies.

“We’re utterly baffled by the Algerian government’s decision to shut down Al-Jazeera’s bureau,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Al-Jazeera should allowed to resume its newsgathering operations without further hindrance.”

Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout told CPJ that the network hoped the matter would be resolved shortly so “Al-Jazeera can resume its professional work.”

Two journalists are now imprisoned in Algeria for their work. Mohamed Benchicou, publisher of the French-language daily Le Matin, has been in jail since June 14. Hafnaoui Ghoul, who writes for the Algerian dailies El-Youm and Djazair News, has been behind bars since May 24.