Algerian supreme court must quash imprisoned journalist’s conviction
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Algeria’s supreme court to play its role of righting judicial wrongs by quashing journalist and media owner Ihsane El Kadi’s grossly unjust prison sentence when it considers his appeal on 12 October.
The owner and director of Radio M and the Maghreb Émergent news site, Ihsane El Kadi was initially sentenced on 2 April to five years in prison with two years suspended on an unsupported charge of receiving illegal foreign funding. Then, in an astonishing decision on 18 June, an Algiers appeal court increased the gravity of the charge on which he was convicted and upped his sentence to seven years in prison with two years suspended. El Kadi has already spent nine months in prison on this absurd charge.
The supreme court has agreed to consider the case on 12 October, when it could issue a ruling the same day or defer a decision until its next session a month later. If it rules in favour of El Kadi’s appeal, he will be retried before an appeal court. A supreme court decision to reject his appeal would be definitive, in which case El Kadi’s only hope of being freed would be a presidential pardon.
“We want to believe that the supreme court will fulfil its role of correcting legal errors and will therefore render justice to Ihsane El Kadi, whose lawyers have demonstrated the multiple procedural violations that impeded his right to a fair trial. The supreme court’s judges can make all the difference by adhering to the law, nothing but the law, and by quashing the absurd and unjust decision issued on 18 June. This would open the way to a new trial in which the absence of any evidence to support the charge would result in this journalist’s acquittal and release.
The announcement of an imminent supreme court hearing has been greeted with some optimism by El Kadi’s family and lawyers.
“We are optimistic because of the defence’s arguments for overturning the verdict,” said Zoubida Assoul, one of El Kadi’s lawyers. “If the supreme court rules on the basis of the law, it will have to quash his conviction because of all the manifest violations of the law on the part of the Algiersappeal court’s judges, both in form and in substance.”
Assoul hopes that the appeal brief filed jointly by her and El Kadi’s two other lawyers, Saïd Zahi and Abdallah Habboul, will convince the supreme court’s judges to overturn his conviction and send the case back for retrial.
Assoul points out that no material evidence that El Kadi had received funds from a foreign organisation or state was presented to the appeal court. Nonetheless, the appeal court convictedhim under Penal Code article 95b – “receiving funds, a gift or an advantage... to carry out or incite to carry out acts likely to undermine the security of the state, the stability and normal functioning of its institutions, national unity and territorial integrity” – a more serious charge punishable by five to seven years in prison.I
The totally incomprehensible decision to reinforce the charge and increase the sentence on appeal is indicative of the level of judicial persecution to which this 64-year-old journalist – who is well known and respected in Algeria and abroad – has been subjected because he has always insisted on his right to practice his journalism freely.
In a statement sent to RSF, El Kadi’s children, Tinhinane and Ghiles El Kadi, spoke of the “huge injustice” to which he has been subjected.
“Our father’s imprisonment on 29 December, after a night-time abduction a few days earlier, was a huge injustice,” they said. “Nine months later, this feeling of injustice has increased, but the hope of seeing him free and rejoining his family has never been stronger. We miss him a lot (…)Algeria needs all its children more than ever to overcome the countless crises and challenges it faces.”
RSF has waged an active international campaign for El Kadi’s release. It referred the case to theUN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. It got 16 media publishers and editors from 14 countries, including Nobel peace laureate Dmitry Muratov, to issue a joint callfor his release and for the Algerian authorities to stop obstructing his media outlets.
And on 30 March, three days before the verdict in his initial trial, RSF’s staff deposited 13,000 envelopes outside the Algerian embassy in Paris, symbolising the 13,000 signatures on the #FreeIhsaneElKadi petition calling for his immediate release. The number of signatures has increased since then, and now exceeds 20,000.