On June 21, 2018, a Béjaïa court of appeals sentenced Marzoug Touati to seven years in prison on charges of “intelligence with a foreign power,” according to news reports. The blogger was initially handed a 10-year prison sentence in May 2018, before an appeals judgment reduced his sentence, according to the reports. Yanis Adjlia, an activist advocating for the journalist’s freedom, told CPJ that Touati is also prohibited from leaving Algeria for five years after his release. According to the reports, he was also fined 50,000 Algerian dinars (US$425).
Touati began serving his sentence at the Oued Ghir prison in Béjaïa. According to media reports and Amnesty International, Touati was held in solitary confinement and had to purchase his own food because authorities barely fed him. On November 3, 2018, Touati was transferred to a prison in the Algerian province of Bouira, according to news reports and a Facebook post by his lawyer, Salah Dabouz.
Algerian security forces arrested the blogger at his Béjaïa home on January 18, 2017, according to his employer, lawyer, and news reports. According to the London-based regional daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, security forces interrogated Touati about a YouTube video he published on January 9, 2017, that shows an interview he conducted via teleconference with Hasan Kaabiah, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
In that interview, the official said Israel has had a liaison office in Algiers since before 2000.
Algeria and Israel do not have full diplomatic relations, and Algeria’s government is frequently critical of Israeli actions.
A Béjaïa court on January 22, 2017, remanded Touati to administrative detention on charges of "talking to the agents of a foreign power with the intention of causing harm to Algeria’s army, diplomatic relations, and financial interests," and "inciting citizens to carry weapons and gather illegally," Dabouz told CPJ in February 2017. According to Algeria’s penal code, the first charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the second charge is punishable by death. In Algeria, administrative detention can be renewed for up to 44 months.
Dabouz told CPJ that Touati denied the charges.
During Touati’s interview with Kaabiah, the journalist asked for the official’s reaction to then Algerian Housing and Urban Development Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s allegations that planned protests against inflation were organized by foreign countries, including Israel, and that Israel was behind the Arab Spring.
The judge refused Touati’s multiple requests to summon witnesses who could have an integral role in the case, Dabouz wrote on Facebook. The judge also refused to release the journalist on a provisional basis, according to Dabouz.
To protest his arrest and his conviction, Touati has waged multiple hunger strikes, according to his lawyer and news reports. The journalist started his most recent hunger strike on July 8, 2018, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Touati suspended his hunger strike on August 14, 2018, at the request of his mother due to his deteriorating health, according to news reports, his employer, and activists campaigning for his freedom.
According to Adjlia, Touati is planning on taking his case to Algeria’s Supreme Court. No date was set as of late 2018.
As of late 2018, neither Algerian Interior Ministry press officials nor diplomats at the Algerian Embassy to the United States had responded to CPJ’s emails requesting comment. Dabouz also had not responded to CPJ’s requests for comment sent over social media.