Al-Arab Blog - مدونة العرب
Open letter to presidential candidates in Algeria
Reporters Without Borders sends open letter to presidential candidates in Algeria
As the 8 April 2004 presidential elections approach, Reporters Without Borders has asked the candidates to make a solemn commitment on a number of measures that would guarantee greater respect for press freedom in Algeria. The organisation has, in particular, called for :
- The abolition of prison sentences and the reduction of fines for defamation convictions, through an amendment of Criminal Code Article 144b. This article currently provides for sentences of two to 12 months in prison and heavy fines, ranging from 50,000 to 250,000 dinars (approx. 500 to 2,500 euros), in cases where individuals are convicted of making defamatory, insulting or slanderous remarks about the president, Parliament, either of its two houses, or the People's National Army (ANP).
- Respect for Article 10 of the Law of 3 April 1990 regarding access to information, which stipulates that "the diverse trends of public opinion and thought are guaranteed equal access in public sector media and publications".
- The abolition of the state television and radio monopoly, and guarantees to ensure the independence and diversity of news stations.
- The possibility for foreign media correspondents to work for several different publications, in accordance with the principle of labour freedom as it has been understood for many years.
Area : 2,381,741 sq. km.
Population : 30,841,000
Language : Arabic
Type of state : republic.
Head of state : Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Reporters Without Borders : Algeria - 2003 Annual report
Algerian journalists are still far from able to work freely even though the threat from armed Islamist groups has diminished. Local officials, businessmen and opposition elements in Kabylia are now taking their turn to put them under pressure. The defence ministry has also opened legal proceedings against several journalists.
Algerian journalists suffered harassment, physical attacks and prosecution in 2002 not only from the state but also at the hands of local officials, local businessmen and delegates of the Aârchs, representatives of the "citizens movement" in Kabylia. Local correspondents have been the main victims of this brutality.
The assault on Abdelhaï Beliardouh, correspondent for El Watan in Tébessa, is the worst example of this. In July, the chairman of the local chamber of commerce and industry and his henchmen beat him viciously, insulted and humiliated him. He was so badly affected by the experience that in October he attempted suicide. He died in November.
The local press faced in dangerous conditions while covered rioting in Kabylia. Caught between opposing forces, a number of them were targets of harassment and threats from the delegates of the Aârchs. Too often those who attacked journalists did so with complete impunity.
For their part, the authorities, relying on article 144b of the penal code, managed to hang an effective sword of Damocles over the media. This sets out prison terms from two to 12 months and fines ranging from 50,000 to 250,000 dinars (around 625 to 3,125 euros) for any "attack on the president of the Republic involving abuse, insult or defamation […]". The same penalties apply when the offences are committed against "the parliament or either of its two chambers or against the army (ANP)".
During the year the defence ministry brought defamation charges against several journalists, several of whom were fined. In general journalists constantly faced censorship or appled self-censorship. Many issues remain taboo : anything related to human rights, influence of the generals, etc.
Finally, there has been no progress in any investigations of disappearances of journalists between 1994 and 1997. Reporters Without Borders concluded, during an on-the-spot investigation in January 2001, that security forces had abducted three of them.
New information on journalists killed before 2002
During the Reporters Without Borders fact-finding investigation in Algeria in October 2002, several journalists in Tizi-Ouzou, anonymously informed the organisation that "property sharks" were implicated in the September 1995 murder of Saïd Tazrout, correspondent for the daily Le Matin in Tizi-Ouzou. Witnesses said the killers arrived in a taxi and that Saïd Tazrout collapsed after he was hit by one or more bullets in the leg and was finished off with two shots to the head.
One week before his death the journalist had published an article on a property scandal and ending : "In the next issue we will name names." A colleague said that some of those implicated had probably ordered the killing. "The journalist was killed 400 metres from the police station. He was carrying two guns himself. Since then nobody has dared to write anything about these property sharks in Tizi-Ouzou," he said.
Another Tizi-Ouzou journalist explained it : "Saïd Tazrout threatened the interests of some extremely powerful groups" A third journalist told Reporters Without Borders that in 1998, following publication of an article on the "property sharks" in the region, someone came to this office and threatened him. "Remembering the journalist who was murdered in 1995, I refused to work on the assignment again when my boss asked me to. I was too afraid." At the time the press had reported that armed Islamist groups had killed Saïd Tazrout.
Reporters Without Borders has recorded 57 journalists killed between 1993 and 1996. Some 40 more other media workers were also killed during these dark years.
In June 2000, officials at the justice ministry told the organisation that the perpetrators or their accomplices had been identified and some of them convicted in 20 of the cases. A preliminary investigation had been opened in all the other cases, the same officials confirmed.
In several cases represented as "cleared up" at least 15 death sentences in absentia were handed down from 1993. For their part, lawyers said that in some cases security forces simply "stuck on" killings of journalists to charges against those arrested as part of the struggle against armed Islamist groups.
While there is no doubt that the majority of the 57 journalists were killed by armed Islamist groups, some cases do leave unanswered questions. Several people think they could have been killed by forces close to the government to "get rid off trouble-makers, demonise the terrorists and intimidate the press".
Journalists who disappeared
Five journalists "disappeared" between 1994 and 1997. Two of them were kidnapped by armed Islamist groups. In the absence of full investigations, certain aspects of the cases give rise to the belief that the three others were kidnapped by members of the security forces.
Mohamed Hassaïne, local correspondent on the daily Alger Républicain, was kidnapped on 28 February 1994 as he left his home in Larbatache (wilaya de Boumerdès) on his way to work. Friends and family said the four kidnappers belonged to armed Islamist groups. Ex-members of these groups said he was murdered on the same day.
Kaddour Bousselham, correspondent with the state-owned Horizons in Hacine, in the western Mascara region was abducted on 29 October 1994. He and his family had been living in a tent because their home had been destroyed by an earthquake. He was apparently tortured then had his throat slit by an armed Islamist group led by the Emir Zoubir. According to the justice ministry a preliminary investigation was open on 27 November 1994 but it ended in the case being closed for lack of evidence on 18 February 1995.
Djamil Fahassi, a journalist with national Chaîne 3 radio, was abducted by two people on 6 May 1995 as he left a restaurant. He was forced into a car, which several witness said then went through a police roadblock near El-Harrach jail with no difficulty. The justice ministry said a preliminary investigation had been opened into the case and would go before the Algiers court. The governmental human rights monitoring body (ONDH) said that Djamil Fahassi had neither been questioned nor arrested.
Aziz Bouabdallah, a journalist with the Arabic daily El-Alam Es-Siyassi, was taken from his Algiers home on 12 April 1997 by several "very well-dressed, plain-clothes men who looked like members of military security", his family said.
He was forced into a white car. Several days later, a friend of the family, a captain in the intelligence services (DRS) said that he was responsible for the "operation" adding that Aziz Bouabdallah had "done nothing, he simply wrote a libellous article".
Two weeks later as the family tried to get further information the officer disappeared. According to the ONDH, the national gendarmerie said the journalist had been "abducted by an unidentified group of four armed men". The Algiers court dismissed the case for lack of evidence on 20 May 200 but this ruling was set aside by the criminal appeal court on 27 June.
Salah Kitouni, managing editor of the national daily El Nour, suspended in October 1992, went to the Constantine police station on 9 July 1996 where he had been interrogated a few days earlier. His family heard nothing more from him.
The family, who wrote seeking information, was told by the prosecutor in March 1997 that on 19 July 1996 the police had handed him over to the research and investigation centre of the Fifth military region. Since then his family have received no replies to the numerous letters they addressed to the ONDH, to the state commissioner and to the Algerian president himself.
Farouk Ksentini, chairman of the national consultative commission for the promotion and protection of human rights (CNCPPDH, that replaced the ONDH) told Reporters Without Borders in October 2002 that he was powerless to act.
"We have no way of knowing what happened," he said. "We seek information from the various authorities but their replies remain evasive. What can we do ? We are not a commission of inquiry. These disappearances happened during a period of total chaos. There was no longer a state."
"We can only encourage the families to make complaints. The state being responsible for these disappearances, we are in favour of compensation. But that doesn't mean to buy off the problem. We need a real commission of inquiry to investigate this problem."
Four journalists physically attacked
Lotfi Bouchouchi, correspondent in Algeria for the French television channel TF1, suffered serious facial injuries when he was hit by a tear gas grenade fired by a gendarme on 13 March 2002 at Tizi-Ouzou where he was covering street reactions to a speech by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He was hit despite the fact that he was standing away from the demonstrators and clearly identifiable as a cameraman.
A number of journalists were insulted and manhandled by the police in Algiers on 14 March during an unauthorised march by the opposition Socialist Forces Front.
M.K. Soussa, journalist with the daily Le Matin, was injured during a crackdown by security forces on a march at Tizi-Ouzou on 28 March. He suffered broken knee and shinbones.
Kamel Boudjadi, journalist with the daily La Nouvelle République, was viciously beaten by security forces while covering rioting in Tizi-Ouzou in May.
Saâd Garboussi, chairman of the Chamber of trade and industry of Nememchas (Tébessa and Souk Ahras region), turned up on 20 July, with three Chamber of commerce officials at the home of Abdelhaï Beliardouh, correspondent in Tébessa for the daily El Watan.
The journalist was severely beaten in front of his family before being dragged through the streets of the town where they continued to beat and insult him. He was then driven to the cellar of the home of Saâd Garboussi where he was interrogated about an article that had appeared that day. He was released as few hours later.
This attack followed the appearance in the 20 July edition of El Watan of an article headlined "Arrest of the chairman of the Chamber". Abdelhaï Beliardouh said in the article that Saâd Garboussi "had apparently been implicated by a former terrorist for bankrolling terrorism" and that he had "reportedly taken part in money-laundering" of GIA funds, generated by crime and extortion which have cast a tragic shadow over the Médéa and Jijel regions."
On 19 October, Abdelhaï Beliardouh attempted suicide by swallowing acid and was hospitalised urgently in Algiers. He died overnight on 19/20 November from serious internal injuries to his oesophagus and stomach.
Pressure and obstruction
Ali Ben Chaabane, bureau chief of the daily L'Expression, received phoned death threats in January 2002. He believed the person who made the call to be a brother of Belaïd Abrika, one of the best known leaders of the citizens' movement. The journalist had just written a series of articles in which he charted the faltering state of the movement, extortion from shopkeepers, etc.
In mid-February Hamid Benatia, correspondent in Annaba for the Arabic daily El Youm became the target of administrative harrassment by local police who demanded every possible document in connection with the legality of his correspondent's office. This came just after the journalist had criticised the role of police during rioting in the region.
Omar Belhouchet, managing editor of the daily El Watan, was acquitted by the Algiers appeal court on 4 March. He had been convicted at a first hearing on 5 November 1997 for "attacking constituent bodies". He had been charged by the public prosecutor for comments he made in September 1995 on French television channels TF1 and Canal Plus. Discussing the murders of Algerian journalists he said he did not rule out the involvement of the "power elite". Under interrogation on 18 February, he said that his comments were "not aimed at any constituent body or state institution but he did not rule out that the political-financial mafia was implicated in the some murders of journalists".
In a crackdown on an unauthorised march by the Socialist Forces Front on 14 March in Algiers, Zoubir Khelaifia, of the Jeune Indépendant, was arrested along with other demonstrators and interrogated in a police station. Hassan Kaoua, journalist with state Chaîne III radio, was also arrested and then released without any questioning. Police damaged a camera belonging to Malika Taghlit, photographer for El Watan.
On 26 May, the minister of communication ordered the foreign press to stay away from Kabylia when covering parliamentary elections. The Algerian authorities cited an "incident" in Kabylia that happened to a police escort protecting a France 2 TV crew. Following protests from foreign journalists on 27 May foreign minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, said they could go where they wanted.
At the end of June, a court in the Algiers suburb of Chéraga sentenced Lotfi Nezzar to a fine of 1,000 dinars (around 12 euros) and one token dinar to be paid to the plaintiff, columnist on Le Matin, Sid Ahmed Semiane known as S.A.S.
Lotfi Nezzar had viciously assaulted the journalist in an Algiers disco on 19 October for having criticised his father, Khaled Nezzar, a retired major general and former defence minister.
There had been a previous dispute between the two around a year earlier and in the months before the assault Nezzar had made a number of threats against the journalist.
Several employees of public ENTV television demonstrated in front of the head office of the daily El Youm, at Tahar-Djaout press building in Algiers on 7 August in protest at a cartoon that appeared the same day in the daily which poked fun at the TV station's recruitment procedures for women.
Some men tried to break into the newspaper offices, abusing journalists and threatening the cartoonist, Djamel Noun. As a result he went into hiding until 10 August to escape the threats made against him He said that the Algerian television had started a campaign of denigration against him, calling him a "terrorist" and comparing him to the GIA head Antar Zouabri.
El Youm was fined on 30 July 210,000 dinars (around 2,600 euros) in damages following a libel complaint by ENTV over an investigation by Redouane Boudjemâa into the management of state television.
In mid-September, Ali Hemici, a journalist with the daily El Ahdath, and Ghanem Khemissi of Erraï were threatened at party headquarters in Annaba by an elected member of the National Democratic Rally (RND), about whom they had written critical articles. Party activists intervened to prevent him from attacking the journalists.
Nabil Chaoui, of the daily Le Jeune Indépendant, was threatened by two men in his office in Annaba on 19 September. Three days earlier, the journalists had written an article reporting comments by the chairman of the Chamber of commerce and industry in Sebybouz-Annaba criticising an industrialist in the region. Chaoui believed the men were the industrialist's henchmen.
Madjda Demri, correspondent of the daily L'Authentique in Tizi-Ouzou was covering a citizens' movement meeting on 27 September when she was fiercely attacked by several delegates.
They wanted her to be made to apologise for an article she had written about a meeting of the Socialist Front Forces that had been broken up violently by members of the movement.
Said Tissegouine, bureau chief of the Algiers daily Le Jeune Indépendant in Tizi-Ouzou published an investigation at the end of September on alleged fraud in connection with money collected by aid organisations for those hurt in the Kabylia riots. He concluded : The money never reached the coffers of the movement. At the end of the article, he said that in the next issue a delegate would make revelations about this scandal and that he would name names. Shortly afterwards friends of the journalist told him that his life was in danger and that he was under threat of death. He left Tizi-Ouzou for two weeks. The promised dramatic interview never appeared.
Photographer Samir Leslous, of the daily Liberté, fell and broke his leg as he was being chased by riot police on 7 October at Irdjen, Kabylie.
Some 30 family members of the disappeared gathered on 6 November in front of the offices of the national consultative commission for the promotion and protection of human rights (CNCPPDH) and were heading for the chairman's office when they were set upon by security forces. A journalist from the Arabic daily El Fadjr, Ibrahim Fakhar, was beaten when he gave his occupation. He was then taken to the police station at Cavaignac in central Algiers where he was again viciously beaten. Another journalists, who asked not to be named, was threatened by a police officer, who told him : "If you write a word I will shoot you."
Throughout the year, the defence ministry laid libel charges against several newspapers including the dailies El Watan, Liberté and Le Matin. On 31 December, Ali Dilem, cartoonist with Liberté, was sentenced by the Algiers court to a fine of 20,000 dinars (about 240 euros) for a drawing of the assassination of president Boudiaf. At the end of the year he was again subject to legal action for three further drawings. The same day, S.A.S., columnist of Le Matin, and the management of the newspaper were fined 980,000 dinars (around 12,000 euros).
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