Dissidents Facing Crackdown from Algerian Government

Two Algerian executives at KBC TV have been placed in court ordered pre-trial detention after being accused of making “false declarations” to obtain filming permits for a program. A culture minister employee who had issued the permits was also arrested. Days earlier, a studio producing Ness Stah (Roof People) and Ki Hna Ki Ness (Just Like Everybody Else), two talk shows broadcast on the privately owned channel, was shut down by government authorities. Ki Hna Ki Ness had been particularly critical of the government.

In a separate press freedom case, Algerian journalist Mohamed Tamalt was given a two-year prison sentence and fined 200,000 dinar ($1,800) for insulting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Tamalt’s lawyer told the Associated Press that Algerian law prohibits the government from punishing journalists for doing their job and that Tamalt is appealing his sentence. Tamalt, a London resident who was detained while visiting his family in Algiers, had reportedly began a hunger strike in the days leading up to his trial.

Meanwhile, Hocine Benhadid, a former Algerian general who has been imprisoned since last September, was released from prison as he awaits trial. Benhadid has been accused of “knowingly taking part in efforts to demoralize the army in a bid to undermine national defense” after giving a radio interview in which he is reported to have criticized President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s brother and other high ranking officials. He was released ahead of his trial due to poor health.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, called the executives’ arrest “disproportionate” to the alleged crime, and said that, “The clear intent is to muzzle private media,” while Amnesty International called on Algeria to “respect, protect and promote freedom of the media following the growing restrictions against independent outlets and journalists in the past few months.”

Former Prime Minister Ali Benfils, who ran against Bouteflika in the 2014 elections, criticized the government, saying it “persists in placing itself above the constitution and the law.” However, Hamid Grine, Algeria’s Communications Minister, denied that Algeria imprisons journalists that criticize the government, claiming in May that “a journalist would never go to prison” for a press offence. Article 41 of the Algerian Constitution, which was adopted by Parliament in February 2016, guarantees freedom of the press, as long as the media exercises its freedom “within the boundaries of the law and respect for the nation’s religious, cultural and moral norms and values”.