Algerian journalist faces 16 politicized lawsuits

New York, October 8, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Algerian authorities to drop charges against journalist and rights activist Hafnaoui Ghoul, who is on trial for writing articles critical of local authorities in Djelfa province. 

Ghoul, a freelance journalist and human rights activist affiliated with the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, is facing numerous charges—criminal defamation, insulting government agencies, and contempt—after he published articles in local papers, according to local, regional, and international rights groups.  

He is due to appear in court in Djelfa on October 13 for a lawsuit filed last year by the governor of Djelfa, in north-central Algeria, and two other local officials after Ghoul published a report in the independent daily al-Wasat about corruption, abuse of power in the local administration, and violations of human rights in the province’s prison, he told CPJ.

“Hafnaoui Ghoul has been the target of harassment by Algerian officials for years. He has been repeatedly detained, beaten, and persecuted because of his writing,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “The charges he is facing are unmistakably politically motivated; they are designed to silence a courageous and critical journalist. We call on the authorities to drop these spurious charges immediately.”

Ghoul told CPJ that he is currently facing charges in 16 pending lawsuits and that all of them have been filed by local officials for his journalism. The latest is a criminal defamation lawsuit filed in April by the director of the Government Holdings Agency in Djelfa after Ghoul published an article in al-Bilad newspaper about mismanagement, Ghoul said.

If convicted, he faces between six months and five years in jail for each of the 16 pending cases under Algeria’s press code—a combined maximum of 80 years in prison, he told CPJ.

In January, Ghoul survived a knife assault when he was attacked by unidentified assailants in front of his home. Althought he filed an official complaint, local authorities have turned a blind eye to this specific case, he told CPJ.  

In 2004, he spent close to six months in prison when he was convicted of defaming a local governor in an article he wrote in Arabic-language daily Djazair News and again in a subsequent interview with the French-language daily Le Soir D’Algerie, CPJ research shows. In April, CPJ sent a letter to the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika expressing concerns about press freedom violations committed in the lead up to presidential elections during which he was re-elected to a third consecutive term.