Algiers court jails journalist for three years, dissolves media company
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the shocking and absurd three-year prison sentence imposed on a leading Algerian journalist and media owner yesterday (2 April) on an unsupported charge of receiving foreign funding to undermine the Algerian state. The court also imposed heavy fines and dissolved his media company.
The sentence passed by the court in the Algiers district of Sidi M’hamed confirms the injustice of the treatment that Ihsane El Kadi has received ever since his night-time arrest at his home on 26 December and throughout the judicial proceedings against him, RSF said.
The court sentenced El Kadi to a total of five years in prison but suspended two of them. It also fined him 700,000 dinars (4,800 euros), dissolved his Interface Médias company, which owns the two media outlets he ran, Radio M and Maghreb Emergent, confiscated all of the assets seized since his arrest, fined the company 10 million dinars (68,000 euros) and ordered the company to pay 1 million dinars (6,800 euros) in damages to the broadcasting regulator ARAV.
On 26 March, the prosecutor had asked the court to sentence El Kadi to five years in prison under article 95b of the penal code, which provides for a sentence of five to seven years in prison for“anyone who receives funds, a gift or an advantage (...) to perform or incite to perform acts likely to undermine the security of the state, the stability and the normal functioning of its institutions, national unity, territorial integrity and interests.”
“This totally disproportionate verdict is the logical outcome of the denial of justice to which Ihsane El Kadi has been subjected ever since his arrest. This decision taken against a courageous journalist and media owner, who has continued, against all odds, to practice his journalism freely, rightly shocks much of his profession. The verdict is all the more unacceptable as the prosecution case proved to be empty, devoid of any evidence. Our support for El Kadi is total and we hope that the appeal procedure gives the Algerian justice system the opportunity to recover and to restore respect for fundamental freedoms, including the right to a fair trial.
El Kadi’s defence team had always insisted that the prosecution case was empty and that El Kadi’s only crime was exercising his profession freely. RSF had repeatedly called for his immediate release and for the unsupported and spurious charges to be dismissed.
“There is no document in the case file attesting that Ihsane El Kadi or Interface Médias received funds from foreign entities or any foreign person,” Zoubida Assoul, a member of El Kadi’s defence team, told RSF. She said the charges were based solely on a sum of 25,000 pounds sterling (28,000 euros) that El Kadi’s daughter, an Interface Médias shareholder, sent to him from the United Kingdom, where she resides, to pay the salaries of the journalists and other employees at Interface Médias when it was in financial difficulty.
Held in police custody for four days after his arrest on 26 December and in prison thereafter, El Kadi decided to remain silent in court in the absence of guarantees of a fair trial. His lawyers said the entire proceedings, including an indictment hearing held in their absence, were illegal and were subjected to political pressure.
RSF has waged an international campaign for El Kadi’s release, referred his case on an urgent basis to Irene Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression,and to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and got 16 international media owners and editors, including Novaya Gazeta editor and Nobel peace laureate Dmitry Muratov, to issue a joint appeal for his release and for an end to the obstruction of his media outlets.
Two days before the court’s verdict, RSF staff members deposited 13,000 envelopes outside the Algerian embassy in Paris, symbolising the 13,000 signatures on the #FreeIhsaneElKadi petition calling for his immediate release.