Algerian journalist aged 77 held 48 hours, charged over satirical column
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the disproportionate proceedings against Saad Bouakba, a well-known Algerian columnist who was released under “judicial control” on 6 February after spending 48 hours in police custody over a satirical column about the government’s relations with the population.
The 77-year-old Arabic-language columnist was arrested in Algiers on 4 February, two days after his article, headlined “Far from politics,” was posted on the Al Madar website. The subject of intensive controversy, the column’s ironical references to a segment of the population were regarded by some as offensive or at the very least clumsy.
Bouakba has been charged under the law preventing and combatting discrimination and hate speech. The conditions of his release include a ban on leaving the country.
“The issue is not defending the type of irony used by Saad Bouakba but safeguarding the right of every editorial writer and journalist to be able to express an opinion,” said Khaled Drareni, RSF’s North Africa representative. “The judicial proceedings initiated against this well-known journalist are out of all proportion. Criminalising the work of an established columnist, whose journalistic career goes back 50 years, makes no sense other than to let people know that the least opinion piece could be the subject of prosecution.”
Bouakba’s career as a journalist began in the 1970s, when he worked for Algerian state media outlets such as the newspapers El Moudjahid and Echaab. He made his name through the columns entitled “Point of Order” and “The Cock’s Crow” that he wrote for various Arabic-language dailies including Echorouk and El Khabar.
He issued an apology for last week’s column, claiming that it had been misunderstood and that he had not intended to hurt or offend anyone.