Algerian, international NGOs, call for release of jailed reporter

Groups charge authorities are taking advantage of coronavirus pandemic to settle scores with independent journalism.

Prison (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Prison
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
BERLIN — A group of Algerian and global NGOs urged the Algerian government to immediately release imprisoned reporter Khaled Drareni and to withdraw all charges against him. 
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) posted the statement on its website stating: “Drareni, the Algeria correspondent of Reporters Without Borders and TV5 Monde and editor of the Casbah Tribune website, has been imprisoned since March 29 on a charge of ‘inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity.””
The statement said that “We ask President Abdelmajid Tebboune, as guarantor of respect and implementation of Algerian’s constitution, to intervene at once to put a stop to the harassment of independent journalists.
“Under article 50 of the Algerian constitution, a press offence cannot be punished by imprisonment. Bringing criminal charges against journalists in connection with their work therefore constitutes a violation of the constitution.”
The NGO Committee to Protect Journalists tweeted on Friday: “Algeria: @pressfreedom joins @RSF_en in calling for the release of their correspondent Khaled Drareni.”
The group’s statement declared that “We call on the judicial authorities not to assist the regime’s attacks against Algerian citizens and not allow themselves to be used by parties hostile to freedom and pluralism.
“We urge Algeria’s political class to adopt a clear position in support of a free, independent and pluralist press, an essential condition for a public democratic debate.”
Reporters without Borders called for attention to “other arbitrarily prosecuted journalists in Algeria, including Sofiane Merakchi, Lebanese TV channel Al-Mayadeen’s correspondent in Algiers, who has been jailed since 26 September.”
The organizations which signed the statement said, “The Algerian authorities are taking advantage of the coronavirus epidemic to settle scores with independent journalism,” adding that “Imprisoning people in the middle of a pandemic is to compound a violation of basic rights with an act of physical endangerment.”
Drareni was covering protests which shook Algeria for most of last year, forcing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign in April 2019, before they were suspended following the coronavirus outbreak. The justice ministry has not released a statement at the time of this writing.
Drareni’s arrest comes days after the jailing of another prominent opposition leader, Karim Tabou.
The authorities have also jailed many prominent figures including businessmen and senior officials or former senior officials associated with Bouteflika on corruption charges.
Algeria has had 1,171 cases of COVID-19 and 105 deaths, according to worldometers.info.

Reuters contributed to this report.