Algeria | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Algeria

Algeria

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

61

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

22

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

17

Like many countries in the region, Algeria has adopted a constitution that protects freedom of expression. But repressive laws, which are used regularly to intimidate and in some cases imprison journalists, are evidence that practice does not reflect the constitutional guarantees. Penal code amendments passed in 2001 make it a crime to defame the president, judiciary, armed forces, and Parliament. Nevertheless, the private print press, which has existed since 1990, is opinionated, feisty, and often critical of the government and its policies. Algeria's judiciary is not independent, and in cases brought by government officials or allies against journalists, the courts almost routinely rule against the latter.

In 2005, few independent publications escaped legal and administrative harassment. In what was almost a weekly ritual, journalists and editors who crossed certain lines in their coverage were summoned to court to face defamation charges. Unlike in 2004, when three journalists were actually imprisoned, in 2005 no journalists went to jail for their work (though several were sentenced to jail and are free on appeal). However, Mohammed Benchicou, publisher of the now defunct French-language daily Le Matin who was sentenced to two years in prison in June 2004 for violating currency laws, remained in prison. Journalists contend that the real reason behind Benchicou's imprisonment was his criticism of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Since Bouteflika's reelection in 2004, journalists and editors who oppose him have been under considerable legal pressure. In 2005, two former employees of Le Matin, Youssef Rezzouj and Yasmine Ferroukh, were sentenced to three months in jail for an article published two years earlier that accused a minister of financial mismanagement. Fouad Boughanem and Ridha Belhajouja, two journalists at Le Soir D'Algerie, another French-language daily that was often critical of Bouteflika's govenment, were sentenced to two months in prison for articles published two years earlier that criticized Bouteflika's reelection campaign. All four journalists (and others who were sentenced over the course of the year) are free pending appeal. Foreign journalists were harassed during the year, and the France-based monthly Jeune Afrique and weekly L'Express were banned by authorities after reports critical of the government.

Authorities maintain tight control over domestic radio and television, which are the major sources of information for much of the public, and it does not appear that the government plans to relinquish that control in the immediate future. Many Algerians watch pan-Arab or France-based channels if they wish to get a more critical view of Algerian affairs. But the ministry of information has yet to accredit journalists from Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, the most popular pan-Arab channels. Another weapon in the arsenal of the authorities is the state-run printing press. Few private newspapers own their own press, and authorities have on several occasions punished critical newspapers by suddenly demanding payment for debts owed to the state printer. The internet, which does not yet have wide penetration in Algeria, is not regulated by authorities.