The Committee to Protect Journalists is very concerned about the recent surge of criminal defamation cases brought against journalists in Algeria, including numerous cases filed in retaliation for critical coverage of Your Excellency. In the past week alone, at least four journalists have been convicted of criminal defamation and three have received prison sentences. Hundreds of cases are pending against local journalists, many involving charges of defaming Your Excellency, journalists have told CPJ.
Among the alarming recent cases:
- Yesterday, a criminal court in Algiers found current and former employees of the French language daily Liberte guilty of defaming the president, according to a journalist present at the court. Cartoonist Ali Dilem was fined 50,000 Algerian dinars for several cartoons published in summer 2003 that were critical of you and your re-election campaign. Former Liberte director Farid Alilat was sentenced to a year in prison for having published the cartoons. Sentenced in absentia, Alilat now lives in France.
- On May 18, a criminal court in Algiers found Fouad Boughanem and Ridha Belhajouja (who publishes under the name Hakim Laalam) of the French language daily Le Soir D'Algerie guilty of defaming the president. According to local sources, the two were each sentenced to two months in prison. The charges against the journalists stemmed from articles published in late 2003 that were critical of your re-election campaign.
Following your re-election last year, several Algerian journalists who worked for publications that publicly opposed your candidacy said that they feared reprisal from authorities for the editorial positions of their publications. Their fears appear to have been grounded. Numerous complaints have been lodged against these newspapers; journalists say court summonses come nearly every week.
Invoking criminal laws to punish dissenting journalists has a chilling effect on the media. The use of such broad statutes, which make defamation of the president and other government officials a criminal offense, deters the sort of healthy debate necessary in a free and open society.
CPJ calls on you to ensure that this practice is stopped immediately. We believe that laws governing Algeria's press--which provide for the criminal prosecution and imprisonment of journalists--should be reformed without delay. Journalists should never face criminal penalties and the prospect of jail time for what they write, and they should be allowed to pursue work freely without constant fear of harassment and legal retribution.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your response.