Algerian journalist jailed for criminal defamation

New York, February 2, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the imprisonment of an Algerian journalist for criminal defamation. Bachir Larabi of the independent daily El-Khabar was arrested on January 21 at his home in the southwestern town of El-Bayadh and jailed the following day, local journalists told CPJ.

He was convicted in absentia on September 29, 2005 and sentenced to one month in prison for defaming the mayor of Na’ama district. His newspaper was fined 50,000 dinars (US$700). In December 2003, Larabi accused the mayor of transferring land slated for a senior citizens’ home to a private individual instead of the local association responsible for construction. Larabi based his article on documents provided by local civil servant Radja’ Al-Hou’ari, who has also been given a one-month prison sentence, the journalists said.

“We deplore the imprisonment of Bachir Larabi and call for his immediate release. Journalists should never be imprisoned for their work,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The authorities continue to harass and intimidate Algeria’s private press through the use of harsh laws that criminalize defaming public officials.”

Larabi spent two nights in the hospital this week with a kidney ailment that was exacerbated by a five-day hunger strike which he began upon his arrest, a journalist at El-Khabar told CPJ.

At least one other journalist is behind bars in Algeria for his work. Mohamed Benchicou, publisher of the now-defunct Algiers daily Le Matin, is serving a two-year sentence on charges of violating currency laws. Many local journalists believe the charges were brought in retaliation for Le Matin‘s criticism of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and powerful ministers. Benchicou is appealing at least three other convictions on defamation charges brought by the authorities.