By Shelagh Smith
On 15 September an appeal court in Algiers sentenced journalist Khaled Drareni to a two-year prison sentence over his coverage of the Hirak protest movement. Two activists, Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, were each sentenced to a year in prison, eight months of which were suspended, in the same sham trial. The two were released after spending their time in jail. Initially Khaled Drareni, had been sentenced on 10 August to three years in prison for “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “endangering national unity” based on his Facebook posts.
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.
The harsh verdict is being widely condemned by Algerian and international human rights organizations. An international support committee, whose members include Pierre Audin, the son of Algerian independence hero Maurice Audin, launched a major international solidarity campaign entitled #WeAreKhaled.
In response, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said, during a televised meeting with two representatives of the Algerian press, that Algeria is being targeted by NGOs like RSF who are trying to “undermine the stability of the country”.
Eight independent UN experts condemned the sentence on 16 September during the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this two-year prison sentence imposed on a journalist who was simply doing his job, and call on the Algerian authorities to reverse it and set Mr Drareni free”. They added “We are very alarmed by the extent of the crackdown on dissent in Algeria. Civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and journalists are increasingly monitored and harassed in the exercise of their legitimate work.”
The UN independent experts also expressed concern with an Algerian draft law, which would criminalize the dissemination of fake news and the funding of any association that could “undermine the State or fundamental interests of Algeria.” The experts stressed that this law would pave the way for more arrests and detentions of dissidents, such as protesters and supporters of the Hirak movement.
Amna Guellali, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said: “Today’s prison sentence for prominent journalist Khaled Drareni is a mockery of justice in a country supposedly undergoing political change and transformation following mass protests. These harsh sentences underline the broader crackdown on freedoms in the country, and confirm an alarming pattern of prosecutions targeting journalists and activists who called for more democracy and respect for the rule of law in Algeria.”
“We are outraged by the blind stubbornness of the Algerian judges who have just condemned (Drareni) to 2 years in prison,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) secretary-general Christophe Deloire tweeted after the verdict was announced. “Khaled’s detention proves the regime locks itself into a logic of absurd, unfair and violent repression.” RSF ranked Algeria 146 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2019.
The Algerian National Union of Journalists (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”.
What you can do:
- Sign the petition “Libérez Khaled Drareni/ FREE KHALED DRARENI” (texts in French, English and Arabic): https://www.change.org/p/chekib-drareni-lib%C3%A9rez-khaled-drareni-free-khaled-drareni
- Send an email directly to the President of the Republic of Algeria via the Amnesty International website: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/w4r-2020-algeria-khaled-drareni/