Police arrested Said Chitour at the Algiers International Airport on June 5, 2017, as he returned from Spain, but his arrest was not made public until after July 3, when diplomats from an unspecified country told journalists about it at a dinner organized by the U.S. Embassy in Algiers, according to media reports.
Prosecutors charged Chitour–who has worked as a fixer and a journalist for the BBC, France 24, and The Washington Post, among others–with espionage for “leaking classified documents” to foreign diplomats, according to news reports.
Tahar said that Algerian security forces had summoned Chitour at least twice before his arrest and questioned him about his work with foreign journalists. Chitour knew that he “was on the [authorities’] radar,” Tahar told journalists.
Neither Algerian Interior Ministry press officials nor diplomats at the Algerian Embassy to the United States immediately responded to CPJ’s emails and phone calls requesting comment.
Chitour’s lawyer, Khaled Bourayou, told the Algerian news website Tout sur l’Algérie that Chitour did not leak any documents to foreign officials, and did not even have access to the kind of documents described in the relevant Algerian legislation. Bourayou did not respond to CPJ’s repeated requests for further information.
On November 12, 2017, the Bir Mourad Rais Criminal Court indicted Chitour, according to news reports and his sister Alia Farhat. The journalist could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, Farhat told CPJ citing a conversation with her brother’s lawyers.
Chitour’s lawyers, Khaled Bourayou and Miloud Brahimi, told journalists in late 2017 that they are waiting for more information on whether the court will allow the defense to appeal the charges in the case, which would prevent the journalist from going to trial.
The journalist suffers from several chronic diseases including diabetes, and his health has deteriorated in prison, Farhat said.
Chitour has been held in Algiers’ El-Harrach Prison, pending trial before the Dar El Beida Court, media reports said.
Chitour’s trial was ongoing in late 2017.