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How CPJ investigates and classifies attacks on the press

JUNE 14, 2004

Posted: June 16, 2004

Mohamed Benchicou, Le Matin

Benchicou, publisher of the French-language daily Le Matin, was sentenced by an Algiers court to two years in prison for violating Algeria's currency exchange laws, according to Youssef Razzouj, Le Matin's editor.

Benchicou was also ordered to pay a large fine, totaling several hundred thousand dollars and has filed an appeal, Razzouj told CPJ. Benchicou was taken into custody immediately after the verdict was announced to begin serving his sentence.

According to Razzouj, the case against Benchicou was launched in August 2003 when he was returning to Algeria from France. Authorities in the airport questioned Benchicou about credit notes, which are similar to certified bank checks of Algerian dinars issued by an Algerian bank, that were in his possession.

Le Matin and other private Algerian media have accused the Algerian government of filing the case against Benchicou to punish him for his newspaper's relentless criticism of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and other officials.

In particular, Benchicou blamed Algeria's interior minister, Yazid Zerhouni, for being behind the prosecution, according to Agence France-Presse. A Le Matin article in 2003 alleged that Zerhouni was involved in torturing detainees while he was a commander in military security in the 1970s. Several local journalists said Zerhouni alluded to Benchicou last year at a press conference in Djelfa, saying he would "pay" for the reports.

Algerian journalists described the punishment as extremely harsh, noting that imprisonment is rare in such cases.

In the months since Benchicou was charged, the police and prosecutors have summoned the journalist and other Le Matin staff members for questioning several times and have accused Benchicou of defaming government officials, including Bouteflika.

Several defamation suits have been brought against the paper. In August 2003, Le Matin was among several private newspapers—all critical of the government—that were told to pay debts owed to the state-owned printer within 72 hours or they would no longer be published. Benchicou also angered officials in February of 2004, when he published a book titled Bouteflika, An Algerian Fraud.

JUNE 30, 2004
Posted: July 2, 2004


According to press reports and journalists in the capital, Algiers, the Ministry of Communications ordered Al-Jazeera's Algiers bureau to suspend its newsgathering operations. The ministry did not provide a reason.

Agence-France Presse quoted Mohamed Daho, Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Algiers, as saying that the suspension would be in effect "until further notice." He said he was "not given any explanation other than the fact that foreign correspondents' work is being reorganized and I could resume my activities afterwards."

Local journalists said the government is drafting a law to govern the conduct of both foreign correspondents working in Algeria and Algerian journalists working for foreign news outlets.

Al-Jazeera has been critical of the Algerian government. In a recent episode of the program "The Opposite Direction," a former Algerian diplomat who now lives in London criticized President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his policies.

Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout told CPJ that the network hoped the matter would be resolved shortly so "Al-Jazeera can resume its professional work."