Washington, D.C., October 23, 2019—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Algerian authorities to release Bendjama Mustapha, editor-in-chief of Le Provincial, and end the harassment of journalists covering anti-government protests.
Security officers today arrested Mustapha at the office of the privately-owned French language daily, in the eastern city of Annaba, according to a post on the paper’s Facebook page and news reports. Police confiscated Mustapha’s computer and did not say why they were arresting him, according to a staff member who was present during the raid, and who asked CPJ for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media.
Since late September, CPJ has documented the arrest of at least four other journalists who were covering nation-wide protests demanding reform. Authorities yesterday extended the pre-trial detention for one of those: blogger and radio host Adel Azeb Chikh, according to news reports.
“Algerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Bendjama Mustapha and all other journalists arrested in recent months,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Millions of Algerians have taken to the streets to have their voices heard, and the press should be allowed to cover this period of national importance without fear of retaliation.”
The Le Provincial staff member who spoke with CPJ said that four plainclothes officers came to the newspaper’s office. One officer stayed with the staff and warned them against using their phones, and the others took Mustapha to his office to ask him questions. After a few hours, the police confiscated Mustapha’s computer and took him to Annaba police station, the staff member said. The police did not disclose to the staff any charges or the reason for the raid, the staff member said.
Algeria’s Ministry of Justice did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
Mustapha has covered protests in Annaba on social media and in Le Provicial, where he has also criticized military officials. The paper’s October 19 and 18 front page stories included reports on the protests and criticism of former prime minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who has said he plans to run in the December presidential election.
Police previously arrested Mustapha in September and June, while he was covering protests, according to social media posts and reports. After the June arrest, Mustapha told the London-based Morning Star that police punched and slapped him, and looked at his photos and messages on social media and messaging apps.
Since February, CPJ has documented how Algerian authorities have censored reporting, expelled foreign journalists covering the protests, blocked websites, and suspended journalists over their coverage of the protests.