New York, June 27, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the arrest of two senior staff at a privately owned television station in Algeria on June 24. Mahdi bin Issa, the manager of KBC, and Riyadh Hartouf, a producer, face charges of falsifying permits and complicity in abuse of position, and were ordered detained by a judge, according to reports.
The charges against Issa and Hartouf relate to the satirical studio talk shows “Ki Ki Hna Nass” (We Are Like Everyone Else) and “Nass el Sath” (People of the Roof), which premiered during the current month of Ramadan. The shows deal with political, economic, and social issues, including allegations of corruption against long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and other government officials, according to reports. If convicted, Issa and Hartouf face sentences of up to three years in prison on the first charge, and up to 10 years on the second, according to reports.
“No journalist should be put behind bars because of work at a television station,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said in Washington, D.C. “We call on Algerian authorities to immediately release Mahdi bin Issa and Riyadh Hartouf and to let journalists and media professionals do their jobs without the threat of imprisonment.”
Security forces closed the studio where “Ki Ki Hna Nass” is filmed on June 19, with authorities saying the closure was because the studio had been used by the shuttered station Atlas TV, according to reports. Atlas TV was shut down by the government after a police raid in 2014, according to reports. No reason for that raid and closure was made public, according to reports at the time.
Issa was summoned as a witness in the case about the studio on June 22, and asked to present KBC’s filming permits and registration, according to reports. Issa, Hartouf, and Munia Nedjai, an officer in charge of licensing at the Ministry of Culture, were then summoned for questioning June 24. Nedjai was charged with abuse of position, and Issa and Hartouf were charged with complicity in the abuse of position and falsifying permits, Issa’s lawyer told reporters.
The investigative judge who questioned Issa and Hartouf said the channel obtained permits for “Ki Ki Hna Nass” and “Nass el Sath” on the basis that the shows would focus on culture and arts, but instead the journalists used the show to discuss politics, according to news reports.
KBC is part of the privately owned El-Khabar media group, which runs a daily newspaper of the same name, and has been known for its criticism of the Algerian government since the media group was founded more than 25 years ago, according to Arabic media reports. Separately, the Algerian government has opposed the recent sale of the El-Khabar media group to businessman Yesad Rebrab, on the grounds that it violates the country’s anti-monopoly law that prevents an individual owning more than one outlet, according to reports.
El-Khabar’s lawyers filed a petition for Issa and Hartouf’s release on bail Sunday, which news reports said would be reviewed by the court in the coming days. CPJ was unable to determine if the journalists have responded to the charges against them. CPJ was unable to reach the television station for comment.