By Shelagh Smith
An Algerian court on August 10 sentenced journalist Khaled Drareni to three years in jail. Drareni was charged with “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “endangering national unity” based on his Facebook posts. He had been detained since March awaiting trial. This harsh verdict is being widely condemned by Algerian and international human rights organizations. Drareni’s lawyers and supporters have launched a call for an international mobilisation to release the journalist who has become a symbol for the struggle for freedom of the press in Algeria.
Khaled Drareni is the director of the Casbah Tribune, the correspondent of the French TV5 Monde channel and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Algeria. He has been targeted for his coverage of the Hirak protest movement which began in February 2019 to demand the resignation of president Bouteflika, and which continued every week to demand political reforms, until the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to the street demonstrations.
Two other co-accused in Drareni’s trial, activists Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, were also sentenced to two years, of which 4 months in prison and the rest suspended.
Following the verdict, supporters of Drareni and dozens of fellow journalists demonstrated outside the courthouse. They denounced the sham trial and called for his release. Fetta Sadat, one of Drareni’s lawyers, said “Khaled Drareni was only doing his job of informing citizens. He did not commit a crime. The verdict is proof that Algerian justice is not free but an instrument in the hands of power that can be used to intimidate Algerians.”
Amnesty International called the sentence a “travesty”, and added that “Khaled Drareni is being punished solely for having bravely exposed the crackdown by the authorities on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including their harsh response to the Hirak protest movement.”
In recent months, the crackdown against journalists, activists, bloggers, lawyers and other Hirak protesters has been intensified by the Algerian government and judiciary in order to suppress and weaken the popular movement. Several activists are also in illegal detention while awaiting trial.
RSF ranked Algeria 146 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2019.
The National Union of Journalists (Le Syndicat national des journalistes,SNJ) stated: “Algeria, a pioneer in terms of free expression and the press in the region for three decades, cannot afford to give up these gains so dearly wrested by generations of journalists and activists, at the cost of enormous sacrifices and years of struggle against arbitrariness, obscurantism, authoritarianism and terrorism. And it is spontaneously that we demand the release of our colleague Khaled Drareni.”
The Hirak movement began with Algerians demanding Bouteflika’s resignation after he announced his intention to run for a 5th presidential election. After he was forced to resign, the protests grew to demand a civil, not a military state. They have also demanded major systemic changes to solve issues like corruption, government mismanagement, unemployment, poverty and substandard public services.
What you can do:
Sign the petitions calling for Khaled Drareni’s release:
- This petition, in French, was initiated by a group of journalists in Algeria. The English translation is:
“Khaled Drareni was sentenced to three years in prison by the court in Sidi M’hamed. His crime: to exercise his profession as a journalist in accordance with the rules of ethics, in particular in his continuous coverage of the Hirak since February 22, 2019. His co-defendants in the same case, with the same unfounded charges, were sentenced for less than the period of pre-trial detention. The special treatment for journalist Khaled Drareni is intolerable.
The defamatory outburst against him was fueled by presidential interference in this case. It resulted in the issuing of the heaviest prison sentence since independence against a journalist for his work. Khaled Drareni’s place is not in prison. As signatories of this petition initiated by a group of journalists, we demand his immediate release and rehabilitation.”
2. This petition was started by Khaled Drareni’s brother Chekib Drareni for the Collectif de la Société Civile pour la Transition Démocratique (Civil Society Collective for the Democratic Transition). There are different texts in French, English and Arabic. (9191 signatories as of 14 August. 17.15)
Libérez Khaled Drareni/ FREE KHALED DRARENI
English translation: “Journalist Khaled Drareni has just been unjustly sentenced to three years in prison for exercising his profession and his constitutional rights as a citizen, the right of expression, the right to come and go. Nothing in the indictment or in the prosecution file justifies under Algerian law such an unfair judgment.
We organizations and citizens, members of the Civil Society Collective for the Democratic Transition, forcefully express our consternation and our revolt against this decision which flouts the rules and the most elementary principles of a State of law. We reaffirm our full solidarity with Khaled Drareni and demand his rehabilitation and immediate release.
The injustice that strikes Khaled Drareni is there to remind us, if need be, that the Hirak, the citizen movement, is more necessary than ever so that the rule of law and democracy finally emerges in Algeria.”