New York, September 15, 2021 – Algerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release reporter Mohamed Mouloudj and ensure that members of the press can work in the country without fear of imprisonment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On September 12, police officers in the northern city of Tizi Ouzou arrested Mouloudj, a reporter for the local independent newspaper Liberté, according to a statement by his employer and news reports. Police also raided Mouloudj’s home earlier that day, according to those reports.
Yesterday, the Sidi M’hamed Court in Algiers charged Mouloudj with spreading false news, harming national unity, and belonging to a terrorist group, and ordered his detention pending investigation, according to news reports and Mouloudj’s colleague Ali Boukhlef, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
If convicted of spreading false news, Mouloudj could face up to five years in prison; he could face up to 10 years for harming national security, and membership in a terrorist group can be punished by the death penalty or life in prison, according to the Algerian penal code. The journalist is being held in Kolea Prison in Tipaza, outside the capital, Boukhlef said.
“Algerian authorities must release journalist Mohamed Mouloudj immediately and drop all the charges against him,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Algerian journalists should be able to work freely and cover sensitive topics without fear that they will be jailed and face charges that could carry the death penalty.”
At yesterday’s hearing, a judge questioned Mouloudj about his contact with Ferhat Mehenni, the president of the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie, an opposition group that the government considers a terrorist organization, according to Boukhlef, who spoke with Mouloudj’s lawyer.
Mouloudj said that he was in touch with Mehenni as part of his journalistic work, Boukhlef told CPJ. CPJ contacted Abdelghani Badi, the journalist’s lawyer, via messaging app, but did not receive any reply.
Mouloudj has worked as a reporter for Liberté for 10 years, and has covered human rights and political issues including self-determination activism in the Kabylie region, the trials of political prisoners, and the anti-government protests that have taken place throughout the country since February 2019, according to news reports and CPJ’s review of his work.
On the day of his arrest, Mouloudj published an article covering a press conference by the Socialist Forces Front party concerning upcoming municipal and provincial council elections.
Previously, on April 19, authorities arrested Liberté correspondent Rabah Karèche over his coverage of land-use protests by members of the Tuareg tribe in southern Algeria; on August 12, authorities sentenced him to one year in prison, as CPJ documented at the time.
CPJ emailed the Algerian Ministry of Interior for comment, but did not receive any response.