Algerian journalist Mustapha Bendjama was sentenced to an additional six months in prison. (Photo courtesy of Mustapha Bendjama)

Algerian journalist Mustapha Bendjama given 2-month suspended prison sentence

On June 27, 2021, an appeals court in Annaba, in northeast Algeria, issued Mustapha Bedjama, editor-in-chief of the local independent news website Le Provincial, a two-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 20,000 dinars (US $150), according to news reports and Bendjama, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

The case stemmed from “harming national unity” charges related to his coverage on Facebook of the country’s anti-government protests, which have been ongoing since February 2019, according to those sources. Bendjama frequently covered political news on his Facebook account, which was deleted in January 2020, he said.

Authorities initially arrested Bendjama in the case on October 23, 2019, after security officers raided his office at Le Provincial in Annaba and confiscated his computer, as CPJ documented at the time.

He was free pending his trial, which was repeatedly delayed, Bendjama said. On January 19, 2021, an Annaba court convicted him on the national unity charges, which he appealed, according to those reports and the journalist. During a hearing on June 20, 2021, prosecutors called for a one-year prison sentence and the same fine, according to those sources.

Bendjama told CPJ that the June 27 appeals court decision could not be further appealed.

Authorities also separately accuse Bendjama of “harming the national interest” and defamation over a television interview he gave on the privately owned Saudi news channel Al-Hadath on March 20, 2020, according to news reports and the journalist. In that interview, Bendjama criticized the governor of Annaba for allegedly violating nationwide COVID-19 lockdown restrictions by hosting a wedding party for one of his relatives.

On June 1, 2021, an Annaba court placed Bendjama under judicial control for that case, and police summoned him for questioning on a weekly basis since then, according to Bendjama and those reports. The journalist told CPJ that he is waiting for authorities to issue a verdict in that case.

Authorities previously charged Bendjama with incitement and a host of other charges stemming from his coverage of the country’s 2019 presidential elections; on February 2, 2020, he was acquitted on those charges, according to news reports and Bendjama.

CPJ emailed the Ministry of Interior for comment, but did not receive an immediate response. CPJ was unable to find contact information for the Annaba governor’s office.