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Women browse graphic novels at a comic festival in Algiers in October 2017. The co-founder of an Algerian news outlet says access to the website is blocked. (AFP/Ryad Kramdi)

Access blocked to Algerian news website

October 27, 2017 3:50 PM ET

Access to the Algerian news website Tout Sur l'Algérie (TSA) (All about Algeria) has been inaccessible on the country's state-owned internet service provider since October 5, 2017, according to news reports and a statement by the website's directors.

A webmaster report showed that the French-language website and its Arabic edition TSA -Arabi were inaccessible through the state-owned internet service provider Algérie Télécom and its subsidiary mobile network Mobilis, the website co-director Lounès Guemache told CPJ. The website remains accessible through the privately-owned service providers Ooredoo and Djezzy, according to Guemache and news reports.

TSA is registered as a privately owned press company in France, where its servers are based, website developer Mahieddine Abdelkader told CPJ. The website, which is generally critical of the Algerian government, has an average of seven million monthly visits, Guemache said. The director said he could not think of any specific coverage that may have led to the site being blocked.

Guemache told CPJ that when the news outlet contacted Algérie Télécom, the company's technical support agents said that they would look into the problem and suggested that a technical error might have been the reason for the blockage. A few days later, Algérie Télécom stopped responding to the news website's repeated calls and emails, Guemach said.

Algérie Télécom did not immediately respond to CPJ's email requesting comment.

Web service testing carried out by the outlet's website developer showed that Deep Packet Inspection, a technology that allows service providers to filter and reroute content based on keywords, was used to inject a RESET packet to the website, hindering access through the Algérie Télécom network, Abdelkader told CPJ. The web developer shared the technical report with CPJ.

The mobile network Mobilis filtered the website's IP address, Abdelkader said.

Abdelkader said that he attempted to bypass the blockade by changing the website's IP address to reflect that of a U.S.-based IP instead of a French one. The website was temporarily accessible on Mobilis but the new IP was blocked after a few hours, he said.

In a radio interview with the state-owned Chaine 3 (Channel 3), the Algerian Minister of Communication Djamel Kaouane denied that his ministry was responsible for the blocked site and said that the website directors should seek an explanation from the service providers. The Ministry of Communication did not immediately respond to CPJ's email requesting comment.

Editors of 16 Algerian news websites said in an October 23 statement that "nothing justifies the censorship" of TSA, and that the blockage is an "attack on press freedom."

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