Police officers are seen in Algiers, Algeria, on May 24, 2020. Authorities recently sentenced journalist Ali Djamel Toubal to two years in jail. (AP/Fateh Guidoum)

Algerian journalist Ali Djamel Toubal sentenced to 2 years in prison over Facebook posts

New York, June 22, 2020 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed dismay at the one-day trial and sentencing of Algerian journalist Ali Djamel Toubal and called for his immediate release.

On June 17, a state prosecutor summoned Toubal, a reporter for the independent daily newspaper Ennahar, to the Mohammadia Court in the city of Mascara for a summary trial, according to news reports and journalist and press freedom advocate Mustapha Bendjama, who communicated with Toubal’s family and spoke to CPJ over messaging app. 

When Toubal arrived at the courthouse later that day, the prosecutor charged him with “insulting state institutions” and “distributing publications harmful to national unity,” and a judge convicted him and sentenced him to two years in Mohammadia prison, according to Bendjama and a statement by the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees, a local human rights group.

The charges stemmed from Toubal’s posts on his Facebook page, where he has posted his reporting and news stories and commentary about the anti-government protests that have taken place throughout Algeria since February 2019, according to Bendjama and those reports.

Toubal was transferred to Mohammadia prison the following day, according to his lawyer, Mustapha Bouchakour, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Toubal filed an appeal in his case on June 18; no hearing date has been set, Bouchakour said.

“We are alarmed that Algerian authorities appear to have discarded any pretext of due process of law and tried, convicted, and sentenced Ali Djamel Toubal in a single day,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Toubal is a journalist, not a criminal, and he must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

The prosecutor originally requested a three-year prison sentence, which the judge reduced to two years, according to Bendjama and news reports.

Bouchakour told CPJ that authorities opened an investigation into the journalist’s February 2020 Facebook posts about the police handling of the anti-government protests, and concluded the investigation on June 17, before the trial was held.

The Algerian Ministry of Interior did not return CPJ’s email request for comment.

Since March, Algerian authorities have imprisoned journalists Khaled Drareni and Merzoug Touati, blocked news websites, and criminalized spreading “false news,” as CPJ has documented.