Algerian journalist provisionally released, facing jail term

New York, March 9, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the provisional release on medical grounds of an Algerian journalist known for his denunciation of corruption under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but is concerned that he will need to return to jail to serve a six-month sentence.

Nedjar Hadj Daoud, managing director of the news Web site Al-Waha (The Oasis) told CPJ he was jailed on March 2  at Chaabet Ennichene Prison in Ghardaia, north-central Algeria, to serve a six-month jail sentence for defamation issued by a minor court in 2005 and upheld by the country’s highest court in 2008. Daoud told CPJ that the judge’s decision to provisionally release him “was based on a medical report assessing the injuries and trauma inflicted on me following an assassination attempt nearly four weeks ago.” Four unidentified men stabbed him in Ghardaia, he said.

Daoud said the six-month jail sentence issued by a lower court and upheld by the Court of Cassation (the county’s highest judicial authority) cannot be appealed. But he said that since his case began in 2005, he should be granted amnesty under an edict Bouteflika declared in July 2006 that commuted the sentences of journalists given jail time for defamation.

Daoud’s prison sentence stemmed from an article in Al-Waha in 2005 on multiple attempted rapes by a local government employee against his female colleagues. A court in Ghardaia sentenced him to six months in prison in November 2005. He appealed the ruling to the Court of Cassation, which confirmed the lower court’s ruling in July 2008, according to local news reports. Authorities have not clarified when he must return to serve his prison sentence; a judge told Daoud that the jail sentence was “provisionally frozen,” he said.

“We are glad that Nedjar Hadj Daoud is out of prison, if only temporarily,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “He has paid a heavy price for his commitment to independent reporting. That price should not include further jail time. He should be granted amnesty.”

The National Journalists Syndicate and the Algerian League for Human Rights condemned the court decision to imprison Daoud.

Daoud said 67 complaints for defamation have been filed against him by what he called the “corruption lobby” and that he has been the target of several death threats and three assassination attempts since 2003 for writing about the involvement of government employees in abuses of power, corruption and drug-trafficking.

In a recent article on Al-Waha’s web site, Daoud wrote that he feared that independent journalism, already in rapid decline since 2004, would soon find itself “unable to protect its image and resist pressure from intruders and brokers and corrupt lobbyists,” eventually vanishing altogether. Attacks on the press have been on the rise since an amendment to Algeria’s constitution last November paved the way for Bouteflika to run for a third term as president in April.