RSF will also give a news conference at its headquarters in Paris today to present its recommendations on Algeria, which include the immediate release of freelance journalist Hassan Bouras. A petition to call for his liberation has been launched.
The report describes the progressive asphyxiation of the Algerian media since President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s reelection for a fourth term in 2014. The death in detention on 11 December of Mohamed Tamalt, a journalist with British and Algerian dual nationality, has just made the outlook even more sombre, as it is the first time a detainee has died as a result of posting opinions on Facebook.
The fight for media freedom is needed more than ever in country where corruption, politicians’ assets and the president’s health are all off limits, professional and non-professional journalists are jailed on criminal charges, broadcasting is under tight control, independent newspapers are being throttled economically and media are being financed with hidden funds.
This grim situation is likely to get even worse in the run-up to legislative elections that are scheduled for April 2017.
“Algeria’s journalists have fought for freedom of information with a great deal of courage and resilience since the 1990s but now, behind a facade of pluralism, authoritarian practices are undermining journalistic independence,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“How far will the Algerian authorities go to stifle the media and those who defend it? Is it not outrageous that a journalist has died in detention in 2016 after three months in a coma while the prison system remains completely indifferent? Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf were held arbitrarily for more than 20 days in June. Hassan Bouras, a freelance journalists and whistleblower, is still being held.”
At today’s news conference, RSF will present its recommendation to the Algerian authorities and the international community on what should be done to improve freedom of information in Algeria.
The most urgent measure is the release of Hassan Bouras and the withdrawal of all the charges against him. Bouras was sentenced to a year in prison on a charge of “insulting state authority” for publishing interviews with residents of El Bayadh (a city 500 km southwest of Algiers), who accused local police and judicial officials of taking bribes and jailing innocent people on the basis of completely false testimony. A petition calling for his liberation has been launched today.
RSF also urges the Algerian authorities to:
- Conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances of Mohamed Tamalt’s death, so that those responsible are punished without delay.
- Stop using the criminal code, arbitrary detention and abusive administrative procedures to suppress and criminalize freedom of information and independent journalism.
- Amend the criminal code, abolishing prison terms for media offences, including insult, contempt and defamation.
- End all forms of restriction on the right to information leading to censorship of the media, including censorship of the following subjects: the president’s health, the foreign assets and bank accounts of Algeria’s leaders, corruption and social unrest.
- Ensure that the procedures for granting broadcast licences and frequencies reflect the principles of fairness, pluralism and transparency, in order to strengthen the public’s right to independent news and information. When licences are refused, the grounds should be given and made public.
- Ensure that media ownership is more transparent, in order to avoid concentration of news media ownership and conflicts of interest.
- Support media and civil society groups that defend media freedom in Algeria, in order to encourage the existence and development of free and independent media, including community media.
In the course of preparing this report, which is available hereunder, RSF conducted some 20 interviews in Algiers, Oran and Tunis from May to October 2016 with the support of the French Development Agency (AFD).
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