New York, March 27, 2020 -- Algerian authorities should drop all charges against journalist Khaled Drareni and release him from prison immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On March 25, a judge in Algiers charged Drareni, a correspondent for global press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and co-founder of the news website Casbah Tribune, with “assembly without a permit” and committing an “attack on national unity,” and ordered him held pending investigation, according to news reports and Algerian journalist and press freedom advocate Bouzid Ichalalene, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
The charges stemmed from Drareni’s coverage on social media of the ongoing anti-government protests in Algeria, his brother said. Drareni has more than 140 thousand followers on Twitter, where he posts links to his work and posts reporting and commentary on Algerian politics.
Drareni was arrested on March 27 at his house in Algiers and was held in a police station for two nights, according to Ichalalene and news reports. On March 29, the Sidi M'Hamed criminal court in Algiers ordered Drareni's detention in el-Harach prison in Algiers, and on March 30 the court moved him to Kolea prison outside of the capital, according to news reports. Drareni’s lawyers advised him to go into hiding after the court ordered his arrest on March 25 but he refused, according to Ichalalene.
Chekib Drareni, the journalist’s brother, told CPJ via messaging app that the judge did not specify how long he would be held.
“At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of accurate reporting, Algerian authorities have instead opted to clamp down on the free flow of information,” said CPJ Senior Middle East and North Africa Researcher Justin Shilad. “Algerian authorities must release Khaled Drareni from this ludicrous prison sentence and drop all charges against him.”
Police previously arrested Drareni on March 7 and held him for four days for allegedly joining an assembly without a permit, as CPJ documented at the time. Following his release, Drareni continued covering the anti-government protests, despite having been forced to sign a letter vowing not to do so, his brother said.
Drareni’s detention order was handed down even though Algeria’s courts are closed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, his brother said. He told CPJ that neither Drareni nor his lawyer were present for the hearing.
The lawyer said that the court will not accept an appeal in the case at this time, Chekib Drareni said.
At the time of CPJ’s most recent global census, three journalists were imprisoned in Algeria in relation to their work.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The nature Drareni’s detention has been corrected in the second, fifth, and eighth paragraphs. Drareni's status and whereabouts at the time of his arrest have been corrected in the fourth paragraph.