Algeria: Journalist Merzoug Touati Arrested Over Protest Coverage

Algerian authorities must immediately release journalist Merzoug Touati and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 12, Algerian police arrested Touati, a reporter for the news website L’Avant-Garde, while he was covering anti-government protests in the city of Béjaïa, according to journalist and press freedom advocate Mustapha Bendjama, who has followed the case and spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and a statement by the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees, a local human rights group.

On June 13, a state prosecutor charged Touati with inciting an unarmed assembly, distributing publications harmful to national unity, and putting the lives of others in danger by violating COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, according to Bendjama and news reports.

The prosecutor ordered Touati’s pretrial detention pending an investigation, Bendjama said.

If convicted on the harming national unity charges alone, Touati could face up to 10 years in prison, according to CPJ research.

“Authorities in Algeria must stop using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to clamp down on press freedom, and instead should use it as a reason to free political prisoners from the country’s overcrowded prisons,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Merzoug Touati must be released immediately, the charges against him dropped, and he should be allowed to report on matters of public interest freely.”

Today, a judge at the Béjaïa court denied Touati’s appeal for parole, and postponed the next hearing in his case until July 1, according to Bendjama and news reports.