New York, January 4, 2022 – Algerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Merzoug Touati and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On December 28, 2021, police arrested Touati, editor of the independent news website Al-Hogra, after he appeared at a police station in the northern city of Ghardaïa to respond to a summons, according to news reports and local journalist and press freedom advocate Mustapha Bendjama, who is familiar with the case and spoke to CPJ over messaging app.
Authorities detained Touati over his social media commentary about imprisoned activist Mohamed Baba Nadjar, according to those reports, Bendjama, and a local journalist who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. Touati published videos about Nadjar’s detention on his Facebook page, where he has about 6,000 followers, and also wrote about the activist for Al-Hogra, according to CPJ’s review of his work.
Yesterday, a Ghardaïa court convicted Touati of spreading false news and insulting the police, and sentenced him to one year in prison and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars (US$718), according to those news reports and Bendjama.
CPJ could not immediately determine whether he intended to appeal the ruling.
“It is shameful that Algerian authorities have repeatedly arrested journalist Merzoug Touati and harassed him over his coverage of sensitive topics,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Touati, drop all charges against him, and ensure that journalists in Algeria can work without fear of imprisonment.”
Authorities previously detained Touati while he was covering a protest in June 2020 and released him in July, as CPJ documented at the time. Separately, he was arrested in 2017 for allegedly committing espionage related to his writing for Al-Hogra, and was sentenced to seven years in prison; he was released in 2019 after his sentence was reduced, according to CPJ research and news reports from the time.
CPJ emailed the Algerian Ministry of Interior for comment but did not receive any reply.