New York, March 30, 2021 – Algerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Abdelhakim Setouane and let him work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, the Sidi M’Hamed Court in Algiers convicted Setouane, director of the independent news website Essafir Broadcast, on charges of defamation, blackmail, and invasion of privacy, according to news reports and local journalist and press freedom advocate Kenzaa Khatto, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
The court sentenced Setouane—who has been in custody since October 18—to six months in prison and fined him 50,000 Algerian dinars ($374), according to those reports. The charges stem from an October 15 article by Setouane, alleging that the president of the People’s National Assembly, the country’s lower house of parliament, had an extramarital affair, according to Khatto and those reports.
Setouane’s lawyers appealed the verdict yesterday, according to local journalist and press freedom advocate Mohamed Lamine Meghnine, who spoke to CPJ over messaging app.
“Algerian authorities are showing their fear of scrutiny by criminally prosecuting a journalist for critical reporting on public figures,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Senior Researcher Justin Shilad. “Authorities must not contest journalist Abdelhakim Setouane’s appeal, release him immediately, and ensure that he can work freely.”
On October 18, 2020, plainclothes security officers arrested Setouane at his home in Algiers in response to a suit filed by the Ministry of Communications over the October 15 article, according to news reports.
On October 20, an Algiers court ordered his pretrial detention and transferred Setouane to al-Harrach prison, outside Algiers, according to news reports. Setouane remains at that prison and is due for release on April 20, as his time in detention since October is counted toward his six-month prison sentence, according to Khatto.
State prosecutors originally called for an 18-month sentence and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars ($788) in a hearing on March 15, according to news reports.
CPJ emailed the Algerian Ministries of Interior and Communication for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.
Setouane was not included in CPJ’s December 1, 2020, prison census because CPJ was not aware of his case at the time.