If Khaled Drareni, the Algeria correspondent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), is sentenced to four years in prison, as the prosecution requested when his trial opened in the Algiers district of Sidi M’hamed yesterday, it will confirm that the Algerian state has turned its back on the ideals of the country’s independence, RSF said.
Held for the past four months, Drareni looked much thinner when he appeared on camera from Koléa prison, near Algiers, on the first day of the trial, which is being conducted by video conference because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The editor of the Casbah Tribune news site and correspondent of TV5 Monde as well as RSF, Drareni is accused of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “endangering national unity” for covering Algeria’s “Hirak” protest movement. He pleaded not guilty, insisting that “I just did my job as an independent journalist” and just exercised “my right to inform as a journalist and citizen.”
The prosecution nonetheless called for him to be sentenced to four years in prison, fined
100,000 dinars (665 euros) and stripped of his civil rights, citing inter alia a Facebook post in which he said the political system had not changed since President Tebboune’s election, and the fact that he reported a call by a coalition of legal political parties for a general strike.
A total of 20 lawyers spoke in turn in defence of Drareni and the two Hirak leaders who are being tried with him. The committee for the defence of the three accused pointed out that the charges against Drareni are not backed by any evidence and that his preventive detention violates a constitutional ban on imprisonment for any offence involving freedom of expression.
“If the Sidi M’hamed court’s judges are independent, they will recognize that there is no case to answer and they will acquit Khaled Drareni,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“If, on the other hand, they were to accept this absurd indictment, it would show that Algeria’s judiciary and executive have turned their back on the ideals of the country’s independence. And a prison sentence would be proof of a shift to authoritarianism. If Khaled Drareni is not released and acquitted in the coming weeks, we will devote ourselves to making public opinion aware of the scale of the crackdown in Algeria and to mobilizing international organizations and governments.”
A support committee for Drareni was created on 23 July. It consists of friends, fellow journalists, well-known figures and various organizations and associations. At least one other Algerian journalist is currently imprisoned and being prosecuted.
Algeria is ranked 146th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2019.