Who is Khaled Drareni, symbol of press freedom in Algeria?
Khaled Drareni, an Algerian journalist who was sentenced to three years in prison in Algiers on 10 August, is due to learn the outcome of his appeal tomorrow. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) looks at the history of this journalist, who has become a symbol of press freedom in Algeria, including the harassment and bribery attempts to which he was subjected.
His professional history
Now aged 40, Khaled Drareni began his journalistic career working for the print media (La Tribune and Algérie News) before switching to radio and TV (Radio Algérie Internationale and Radio Alger’s Channel 3). In 2012, he hosted Dzaïr TV’s political debate programme “Controverse,” setting off a storm by expressing astonishment when, during an interview, the prime minister likened President Bouteflika’s candidacy to a “a gift from God.” He went on to become the editor and anchor of “19 Info,” the leading French-language news programme on Echourouk TV. He launched the Casbah Tribune news website in November 2017. At the same time, he has been the Algeria correspondent of the French TV channel TV5 Monde since 2016 and RSF’s correspondent since 2017. He covered the “Hirak” anti-government protests that began in Algiers in February 2019 for the Casbah Tribune and TV5 Monde.
Three intimidation attempts
- While covering student demonstrations in Algiers on 14 May 2019, he was detained and questioned by the security branch of the police, who asked him to be less critical of the head of the armed forces and to use his articles to promote the idea of a “dialogue” between the military and politicians.
- During a demonstration on 9 August 2019, he was detained, searched and questioned for 45 minutes, and his phone was seized. Before releasing him, the police told him to stop covering the regular Friday demonstrations in Algiers.
- On 9 January 2020, he was arrested and taken to an army barracks, where he was told that his articles were “subversive, false and tendentious” and that this was the last warning he would get before his case was transferred to the judicial system. He was finally arrested on 29 March 2020 and was incarcerated in Koléa prison, near Tipaza.
Two bribery attempts
- On 4 March 2019, a senior Algerian official offered him an apartment and premises for an NGO in exchange for his help in channelling the protesters via social media. Drareni did not hesitate in refusing the offer.
- On 30 December 2019, a domestic security official took him to Antar barracks (which is controlled by the Department for Intelligence and Security’s Directorate for Counter-Espionage). There, a colonel and a major criticized some of his tweets and Facebook posts, but at the same time they offered him important positions, including the position of head of Algerian state radio. Drareni again refused.
- Drareni was accused of “endangering the integrity of the national territory” in two social media posts. In one of these posts, he was said to have written: “This system keeps on reproducing itself and refuses to change. When we call for press freedom, they reply with corruption and money, and money doesn’t buy everything. Long live freedom of the press.”
- He was also accused of having “no official document issued by the competent authorities proving his status as a journalist” and of having “received payment for services provided to a foreign media outlet, TV5, without presenting proof of his legal accreditation as a correspondent.”
- The prosecution also denounced the fact that, three days before the presidential election on 12 December 2019, Drareni had shared on Facebook a “Communiqué by the Alternative Democratic Party” calling for a general strike and election boycott, and that on 11 February 2020 he had posted another communiqué, entitled simply “important communiqué,” calling for a general strike. Drareni explained twice to the judges that in so doing he was just relaying newsworthy information.
What his colleagues say about him
- “Whenever I was detained or summoned for questioning by the security forces, he was one of the first to write about it or to sound the alarm, in order to denounce this kind of intimidation of journalists, which is designed to crush the rights of the media and the rights of our fellow citizens to reliable information.” Mustapha Bendjama, editor of the daily newspaper Le Provincial
- “I learned a lot at his side. His aim is for us to be independent and honest when doing our job. Khaled is known and appreciated for his courage, professionalism and exemplary rigour. He is badly missed by his family and friends, who now know he was wrong when he used to say that no one is indispensable. Because he really is indispensable.” Moncef Ait Kaci, journalist.
- “Ever since the start of the Hirak, Khaled was like a compass guiding us to the truth. He photographed and reported everything that was happening, both the Hirak protests and the pro-government demonstrations. He always liked a job well done, and insisted on verifying the accuracy of any information before publishing it.” Madjeda Zouine, Casbah Tribune journalist.
Algeria is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2019 and 27 places lower than in 2015.