Algerian journalist held for more than a year without charge

New York, November 14, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the imprisonment of Algerian journalist Abdelhai Abdessamia, who has been held since August 18, 2013. News of Abdessamia’s imprisonment was reported by his family in early November, according to news reports.

Abdessamia, a correspondent for the daily Mon Journal and its Arabic counterpart, Djaridati, has been under investigation in administrative detention and accused of participating in the allegedly illegal departure of his editor, Hicham Aboud, from the country, according to his lawyer, colleagues, and family.

Abdessamia’s lawyer, Mohamed al-Gawasemeh, told CPJ that Abdessamia was at first accused of “smuggling immigrants,” which is a criminal offense, as well as “facilitating smuggling,” a misdemeanor. In April, al-Gawasemeh said, an investigative judge dropped the “smuggling immigrants” allegation, but kept the journalist under investigation for the misdemeanor, which carries up to three years in prison. Al-Gawasemeh told CPJ that authorities refused four requests to release the journalist. No court hearings have been scheduled, he said.

An official who declined to identify himself at the Algerian embassy in Washington deferred CPJ’s request for comment to the New York consulate. A representative at the consulate told CPJ that the matter was not under the consulate’s purview.

“It is outrageous for the Algerian government to hold a journalist without charge for well over a year. If officials had evidence of their strange accusations against Abdelhai Abdessamia, they could certainly have presented it in court months ago,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on authorities to release him immediately.”

Mon Journal and Djaridati were shut down in late 2013 after covering President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s deteriorating health, news reports said. An Algerian prosecutor also ordered a judicial investigation into Aboud, owner and editor of Mon Journal and Djaridati, accusing him of “endangering state security, national unity, stability and proper functioning of instituting.”

Aboud told CPJ that the allegations against Abdessamia stem from an August 2013 meeting between the two in which they discussed opening a branch for his publications in the city of Tébessa.

In early June 2013, Aboud was forbidden from traveling to a conference in Tunisia, he said. Then, in late June, an investigative judge dismissed the investigation against him, he said. Aboud told CPJ that after he met with Abdessamia in August, he crossed the border into Tunisia. He said he crossed legally and that his passport held exit and entry stamps.

The lawyer told CPJ that authorities warned Abdessamia’s family not to publicize his imprisonment. Abdessamia’s wife reported his detention only after she visited him in Tebessa prison in early November and learned that he had started a hunger strike to protest his detention, according to the lawyer and news reports.