Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today’s decision by an Algiers appeal court to keep Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni in prison, albeit reducing his sentence from three to two years in prison. This decision by a justice system that follows orders will contribute to the decline in Algeria’s image and reinforce this independent journalist’s status as a symbol, RSF said.
“We are outraged by the blind obstinacy of the Algerian judges,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Keeping Khaled Drareni in prison shows the regime has locked itself into a position of absurd, unjust and harsh repression. By deterring journalistic coverage of the ‘Hirak’ anti-government protests, the compliant Algerian justice system is deluding itself that you can put a protest movement into a pressure cooker and shut the lid. This is a futile, explosive strategy that undermines the legitimacy of those carrying it out.”
In a tweet, Deloire added: “This decision will have significant consequences for Algeria’s image. The repetition of grossly unjust decisions is reinforcing this independent journalist’s status as a symbol. If Khaled was originally a source irritation for the regime, he is now a major thorn in its side.”
The editor of the Casbah Tribune news site and the Algeria correspondent of RSF and the French TV channel TV5 Monde, Drareni was originally sentenced on 10 August to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars (330 euros) on charges of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “endangering national unity” for covering the Hirak protests.
At the opening of the appeal hearing on 8 September, the prosecution again requested a four-year jail sentence, as it did at the original trial.
The Algerian justice system convicted Drareni of “endangering the integrity of the national territory” on the basis of two social media posts. In one of these posts, he was said to have written: “This system keeps on reproducing itself and refuses to change. When we call for press freedom, they reply with corruption and money, and money doesn’t buy everything. Long live freedom of the press.”
The prosecution also denounced the fact that, in Facebook posts, Drareni had shared communiqués calling for a general strike and election boycott. Drareni always argued that in so doing he was just relaying newsworthy information.
He was also accused of having “no official document issued by the competent authorities proving his status as a journalist” and of having “received payment for services provided to a foreign media outlet, TV5, without presenting proof of his legal accreditation as a correspondent.” A professional journalist since 2004, the 40-year-old Drareni said in his defence that he had never previously needed any such accreditation.
Held in Koléa prison near Algiers since 29 March, Drareni seemed to have lost a lot of weight and to be very weak when he appeared in court for the 8 September hearing, prompting his national and international support committees to call for his immediate and unconditional release on urgent health grounds.
Algeria is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2019 and 27 places lower than in 2015.