Two Algerian journalists sentenced to prison for libel

New York, July 9, 2012–Algerian appellate courts should reverse rulings against two journalists who were sentenced to prison in June on libel charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 25, Fatima Zahraa Amara, a journalist for the local online newspaper Akher Sa3a (The Last Hour), was sentenced by a court in the city of Annaba to two months in prison, a fine of 20,000 Algerian dinars (US$246), and 100,000 Algerian dinars (US$1,233) in damages on libel charges, according to news reports. The former director of a local hospital had filed a complaint against Amara for reporting on a court case in which an employee accused him of sexual harassment, news reports said.

Ten days earlier, a court in the city of Mascara sentenced Manseur Si Mohamed, bureau chief of the French-language daily La Nouvelle République and head of the Mascara branch of the National Syndicate of Journalists, to two months in prison and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars (US$620) on libel charges, according to news reports. The director of a local tax office had filed a complaint against Mohamed for a story that alleged he hadn’t complied with court rulings concerning an employee, news reports said.

Amara and Mohamed will both appeal their cases, but no court dates have been set yet, Kamel Amarni, the secretary general of the Algerian National Syndicate of Journalists (SNJ), told CPJ. Amarni said the journalists are both free pending appeal. He said the rulings were surprising and unfounded because Algeria’s new media law, which came into effect in January 2012, does not cite imprisonment as a penalty for press offenses. The SNJ is protesting both rulings, he said.

“These sentences go against the spirit of Algeria’s new media law. Defamation is a matter for the civil, not criminal, courts, and journalists should not go to jail for what they write,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The appellate courts must confirm that Algeria is on the road to decriminalizing press offenses by overturning these prison sentences.”

CPJ conducted an analysis of the country’s new media law, finding it wrought with ambiguities and falling short of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s promises of reform.

  • For more data and analysis on Algeria, see CPJ’s Algeria page here.