February 23, 2006
His Excellency Abdelaziz Bouteflika
C/o His Excellency Amine Kherbi
Embassy of Algeria
2118 Kalorama Rd., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Via facsimile: 202-667-2174
The Committee to Protect Journalists wishes to express its grave concern about the arrest of two Algerian editors and the closure of their weeklies for publishing controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad on February 2. Kamel Bousaad, editor of pro-Islamist weekly Errissala, was arrested on February 8 and Berkane Bouderbala, managing editor of the weekly Essafir, was arrested on February 11, according to news reports.
The editors face charges under Article 144 of the penal code, which provides for imprisonment of up to five years and heavy fines. The BBC reported that the magazines had been critical of the Danish drawings and printed them as a way to explain the outrage in the Muslim world. The drawings were partially obscured to prevent possible offense. According to BBC, the two Arabic language magazines have moderate pro-Islamist views and print only a few thousand copies a week.
CPJ recognizes the deep sensitivities surrounding this issue, but no solution can be found in silencing newspapers or jailing journalists. The fact that people may take offense at publication of certain information or ideas should not be used as a basis for restricting the work of the press. We call on your Excellency to ensure that these two journalists are not imprisoned for practicing their profession and that any charges against them be dropped. We further call on you to immediately allow the weeklies to publish again.
In addition, CPJ remains very concerned about other criminal convictions of Algerian journalists, including Mohamed Benchicou, publisher of the now-defunct Algiers daily Le Matin. He is serving a two-year sentence on charges that many believe were brought in retaliation for criticism of your government.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.