The appeal court recommended Omar Belhouchet, director of the daily El Watan, serve a year long prison sentence for "attacking official bodies". The journalist had not excluded the possibility that government-linked groups were involved in assassinations of journalists carried out between 1993 and 1996.
In a letter addressed to the Justice Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters without Borders - RSF) protested against the sentence recommended by the prosecutor of the Court of Appeal in Algiers for the director of the private daily newspaper El Watan, Omar Belhouchet, for "attacking official bodies". Reporters Sans Frontières reiterates that in a document dated January 18, 2000, Abid Hussain, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression asked "all governments to ensure that those committing press offences no longer risked prison unless they involved offences such as racist comments or incitement to violence (...) imprisonment to condemn the peaceful expression of opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights". "It is obvious that this case has been brought up again in the context of the recent campaign against journalists", stated Robert Ménard, Secretary-General of the organization. According to information obtained by RSF, on February 17, the prosecutor of the Appeal Court of Algiers demanded a year's imprisonment for the director of the private daily newspaper El Watan, Omar Belhouchet, charged with "attacking official bodies". The case has been taken under advisement and judgment will be rendered on March 4. Omar Belhouchet was sentenced at the court of first instance on November 5, 1997. He was charged by the public prosecutor for opinions expressed in September 1995 on the French television channels TF1 and Canal Plus. Questioning the assassination of Algerian journalists, the director of El Watan had not excluded the involvement of the "power elite". When he was questioned on February 18, Belhouchet stated that his views were "not aimed at any official body or State institution", but he did not exclude the "political and financial mafia's involvement in some assassinations of journalists". According to RSF, fifty-seven journalists were assassinated between 1993 and 1996 along with around forty other people employed in the media. Responsibility for most of these assassinations was claimed by various armed Islamic groups. Nevertheless, as far as RSF is concerned, the circumstances surrounding some of these assassinations remain unclear and raise numerous questions. Earlier, on January 28, an El Watan journalist, Salima Tlemçani, was brought in for questioning by the Algiers criminal investigation department for an article dated December 11, 2001 commenting on nominations to the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS). Other journalists from private daily newspapers and caricaturists have also been called in for questioning by the criminal investigation department in the Algerian capital over the last few weeks following accusations of defamation by the Ministry of Defence.