January 19, 2017

Journalist gets six-month suspended jail sentence on appeal

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores this week’s appeal court decision to uphold Algerian freelance journalist Hassan Bourras’ criminal conviction, although the court reduced his sentence to a six-month suspended jail term, with the result that he was freed yesterday afternoon.

In its decision issued on 17 January, the appeal court in the southwestern city of El Bayadh confirmed Bourras’ conviction on charges of “insulting judicial officials,” defamation and causing offence by interviewing three people who talked about cases of alleged corruption in El Bayadh.

Bourras, who had been detained since November, was sentenced to a year in prison at the original trial.

The prison sentence is regrettable even if suspended,” RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said. “The court should have overturned Hassan Bourras’ conviction on all the charges. By imposing this kind of sentence, the Algerian authorities discourage all journalists and whistleblowers from informing the public about cases of corruption.”

After his release, Bourras told RSF: “I am happy to be freed. I am now going to rest and deal with the health problems that arose during my imprisonment.” He added that he planned to ask his lawyers to refer the case to Algeria’s highest appeal court.

Algeria’s journalists continue to suffer from an arbitrary implementation of the criminal code, which is systematically used to suppress all reporting that his critical of the authorities.

As RSF pointed out in a report published in December (see here), the judicial system’s draconian practices contravene the new constitution, promulgated on 6 March, and Algeria’s international obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Algeria is ranked 129th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.