Algerian journalist who covered protests faces verdict

AFP
Algiers, Algeria Published: Aug 10, 2020, 11:58 AM(IST)

Khaled Drareni Photograph:( AFP )

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Khaled Drareni, 40, was arrested on March 29 on charges of "inciting an unarmed gathering" and "endangering national unity" after covering demonstrations by the "Hirak" protest movement.

An Algerian journalist faces years in prison if convicted on Monday in a trial rights groups call a test of press freedom in a country recently rocked by anti-government protests.

Khaled Drareni, 40, was arrested on March 29 on charges of "inciting an unarmed gathering" and "endangering national unity" after covering demonstrations by the "Hirak" protest movement.

Weekly protests rocked Algeria for more than a year and only came to a halt in March due to the novel coronavirus crisis.

The prosecutor called for Drareni to be sentenced to four years in prison, fined 100,000 dinars ($784) and stripped of his civil rights at the opening of his trial at the Sidi M'hamed court in Algiers on August 3.

Drareni, editor of the Casbah Tribune news site and correspondent for French-language channel TV5 Monde, denied the charges when he appeared via video-conference due to coronavirus measures.

"I just did my job as an independent journalist," he said, according to a statement by press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), for which Drareni also works.

He added he had exercised his "right to inform as a journalist and citizen".

RSF, part of an international support committee for Drareni, condemned the charges and said "a prison sentence would be proof of a shift to authoritarianism" in Algeria.

If judges "accept this absurd indictment, it would show that Algeria's judiciary and executive have turned their back on the ideals of the country's independence," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

The US-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists joined calls that have multiplied in recent weeks to release journalists in Algeria.

"Algerian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Khaled Drareni, especially as there is no evidence he did anything except his job as a journalist," said CPJ regional programme coordinator Sherif Mansour.

The Algerian judiciary has stepped up prosecutions and convictions of journalists, Hirak activists, political opponents and bloggers in recent months.

Drareni was charged along with protest members Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, who were released on bail in July and also face jail time, fines and loss of their civil rights.

Some journalists have been accused of sowing discord, threatening national interests and being on the payroll of "foreign parties", with several in prison and trials under way.

In July, Ali Djamel Toubal, a correspondent for the privately-owned media group Ennahar, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for, among other things, broadcasting footage showing police officers mistreating anti-regime demonstrators.

RSF ranked Algeria 146 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2019.

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