Algeria’s judicial harassment of Annaba-based reporter must stop
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns an Algerian criminal court’s decision to fine Mustapha Bendjama, a journalist based in the eastern city of Annaba, for reporting a flagrant violation of Covid lockdown rules in 2020.
This is just the latest example of the constant judicial harassment to which Bendjama has been subjected because of his dedication to reporting the truth, regardless of the cost. He is currently detained in a separate case not directly related to his journalism.
Charged with defamation and “endangering the national interest,” Bendjama was fined 30,000 dinars (200 euros) and was ordered to pay 50,000 dinars (330 euros) in damages by the Annaba criminal court on 16 July for posting a video and an article on social media in March 2020 about a wedding party held in a banqueting hall in Annaba in violation of a Covid lockdown.
Annaba’s wali (governor), Djamel-Eddine Berimi, reacted to the posts by Bendjama, a former editor of the regional newspaper Le provincial, by immediately filing a criminal defamation complaint alleging that they were designed to undermine his ability to ensure respect for his anti-Covid measures.
Bendjama’s lawyer, Adel Messaoud, said Bendjama has already filed an appeal against this conviction, the outcome of a hearing held on 9 July. It was the second time the case has gone to trial. At the first trial in December 2021, which was quashed on appeal because it was held in Bendjama’s absence, he was sentenced to a year in prison as well as a fine of 50,000 dinars (330 euros) and 200,000 dinars (1,330 euros) in damages.
"This sentence may be more 'lenient' than the one issued at the first trial, held in absentia, but it is just as absurd. In this case, Mustapha Bendjama is being punished for having done his job as a journalist by revealing a manifest breach of the Covid rules imposed by the authorities and by drawing attention to a threat to the public’s health. He must be acquitted in this grotesque case and the judicial harassment to which he has been subjected must now end.
Bendjama has been subjected to constant judicial harassment in connection with his journalism ever since he began covering the “Hirak” street protests in February 2019. He has been arrestedmore than a dozen times for his coverage of the protests in Annaba, where the authorities says his reporting is biased in favour of theprotesters.
He has been detailed provisionally since 19 February in Boussouf prison, in the eastern city of Constantine, for allegedly helping Amira Bouraoui, an opponent of the government, to travel to eastern Algeria and, from there, to clandestinely cross the border into neighbouring Tunisia in defiance of a ban on leaving the country.
For allegedly helping to draft an international NGO’s report on the human rights situation in Algeria, he has also been charged since February with illegally receiving “foreign funding” and “publishing classified documents on the Internet.” No date has so far been set for the trial.