New York, December 13, 2023 – Algerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Mustapha Bendjama and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday.
During an appeal hearing held in the northeastern city of Annaba on Tuesday, December 12, the state prosecutor requested an additional one-year prison sentence for Bendjama, editor-in-chief of local independent news website Le Provincial, on charges of defamation and harming public order, according to news reports, and a local journalist who spoke to CPJ via messaging app on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
Bendjama’s defamation charges stem from complaints filed by the former governor of Annaba, Djamel Eddine Berimi, in 2020, according to those sources. The verdict in this trial is scheduled for December 19.
On March 20, 2020, Bendjama gave a television interview on the privately-owned Saudi news channel Al-Hadath where he criticized Berimi for allegedly violating nationwide COVID-19 lockdown restrictions by hosting a wedding party for his relatives, CPJ reported at the time.
“Charging imprisoned journalist Mustapha Bendjama in three different trials in less than a year is simply cruel and demonstrates the Algerian government’s level of intolerance for press freedom,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director. “Algerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Bendjama, drop all charges against him, and cease from imprisoning journalists for their work.”
On June 1, 2021, an Annaba court placed Bendjama under judicial control for that case, and since then, authorities have regularly summoned him for questioning, according to the local journalist.
Bendjama has been in custody since police arrested him from his office on February 8, 2023, and is currently serving a six-month prison sentence for allegedly helping French-Algerian journalist Amira Bouraoui flee to France earlier this year. Bouraoui, who is banned from traveling outside of Algeria, denied any connection with Bendjama, according to news reports. Bendjama appealed the sentence, and his verdict in this trial is scheduled for December 19, according to news reports.
Separately, Bendjama is also serving a reduced prison sentence of 20 months, eight months in prison and 12 months suspended, in relation to a third trial, in which he was convicted of receiving foreign funding to commit acts against public order and publishing classified information. Bendjama was due for release on November 7; instead, authorities extended his detention and convicted him in the immigration case, CPJ reported at the time.
CPJ emailed the Algerian Ministry of Interior for comment but did not receive any response.