Joint statement

Algeria: End arbitrary detention and prosecution of journalist Drareni & peaceful activists Hamitouche and Benlarbi ahead of 15 September verdict

Civil society groups call on the government of Algeria to end its crackdown on journalistic and other freedoms in an urgent appeal.

The undersigned civil society groups are alarmed at the continued attacks on civic space in Algeria and call on the government to end their crackdown on journalistic and other freedoms. Freedom of expression has come under severe attack since March 2020, with several journalists facing arrest for conducting their work in the country. Journalist Khaled Drareni was arrested on 29 March 2020 for filming a protest, and his sentence is confirmed on appeal, alongside protesters Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche. We call for the immediate release of Drareni and for charges against him to be dropped.

On 23 April 2020, parliament adopted amendments to the Penal Code that include harsh prison sentences for the dissemination of false information during a public health crisis, accessing funding (whether local or international) that the state deems “likely to undermine state security, stability, or normal functioning of [state] institutions,” or undermine “the fundamental interests of Algeria” or “public security and order.” There are also continued restrictions on free assembly following the protests of the Hirak movement that started in 2019. Included in these restrictions is the arbitrary detention and prosecution of individuals associated with the protest movement and those who express support for it in multiple fora. Under these worsening civic space conditions, and taking into consideration the health risks posed to detainees by COVID-19 the undersigned are concerned for:

  • Algerian journalists, activists, and lawyers, including Said Boudour, Amel Hadjadj, Halim Feddal,
  • Reporter Abdelkrim Zeghileche, who was sentenced to two years in prison on 24 August 2020 after he called for the creation of a new political party and criticized President Tebboune, and
  • Khaled Drareni, who was arrested alongside two protestors, Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, both sentenced to two years’ imprisonment each.

Drareni, who is editor of the Casbah Tribune news site and correspondent for TV5 Monde, has been arbitrarily detained since 29 March 2020 solely for doing his job as a journalist. According to Amnesty International, Drareni was arrested while filming police approach protestors on 27 March 2020. On 10 August 2020, he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “endangering national unity” for his work covering the Hirak protests over the past year. Drareni was also charged a fine of 50,000 Dinars (roughly, US$390).

Article 50 of the Algerian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but the legal framework still impedes on this right. Law 12-05 of 2012 (or the Law on Information) requires publishing houses to seek prior approval from the media regulatory authority for publications and violations can include fines of up to 500,000 dinars (roughly US$3900.00). Activists, artists and others have been increasingly detained for their journalist work and social media posts under the false and vague accusations of threatening national unity and inciting protests. Algeria is rated “repressed” on the CIVICUS Monitor.

In response to the arrest of Drareni, protests which started in late August 2020 have erupted across the country, beginning in Algiers, calling for his release. Starting on 8 September 2020, Drareni is attending his appeal alongside Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, and faces the risk of 4 years imprisonment. Urgent action is needed from the international community to ensure his release and call for an end to restrictions facing journalists, protestors and activists in Algeria.

Given the current threats facing Drareni, Benlarbi, Hamitouche, and all detained prisoners of conscience, the undersigned call for the European Parliament to urge Algerian authorities to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Khaled Drareni, dropping all charges against him;
  2. Revise the legal framework, including the Penal Code, the 2012 Law on Information and the Law No. 09-04 of August 5, 2009, in line with international best practice to protect the right to freedom of expression in the country;
  3. Devise a plan to roll back the April amendment designed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, are time limited, in line with international human rights standards, to ensure that these do not unduly curtail civic freedoms;
  4. Immediately and unconditionally release all protestors, activists and journalists arbitrarily detained for their peaceful protests, activities and reporting, notably on the Hirak movement; and
  5. Cease all judicial harassment and intimidation against all protestors, activists and journalists and those facing restrictions for the exercising their opinions online.

The undersigned,

Article19
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
CIVICUS
Collectif des Familles de Disparus en Algérie
Freedom House
Humena for Human Rights and Civic Engagement