Algeria | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Algeria

Algeria

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

62

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

23

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

17

While the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the government has often used legal and extralegal means to harass and restrict the media. A state of emergency decreed in 1992 remained in effect in 2007, authorizing the government to legally penalize any speech deemed threatening to the state or public order. In addition, a separate February 2006 presidential decree authorized the imprisonment for up to five years of journalists who criticized the conduct of the security forces during the country’s civil conflict of the 1990s. Similarly, articles from the 1990 Communication Law were amended in 2001 to criminalize defamation of the president, parliament, the judiciary, or the military, and the penal code imposes penalties ranging from fines to prison terms of up to two years for defamation of high-ranking government officials. In May 2006, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika pardoned journalists sentenced to prison terms; however, no efforts have been made to decriminalize press offenses in the first place.

While the number of defamation and other legal charges brought against journalists declined in 2007 from previous years, the quantity is still high as the government continues to actively use these laws to threaten and arrest journalists. For example, since 2002 Yasser Abdelhai of the daily Echourok el-Youmi has faced 26 defamation cases for his critical reporting. Most recently, in 2007 he was ordered to pay 4 million dinars (US$56,000) by March 15 for damages relating to four separate cases. Echourok el-Youmi was further targeted when its managing editor, Ali Fodil, and a journalist, Naila Berrahal, lost their appeal on April 4; each received a suspended sentence of six months’ imprisonment and fines of 500,000 dinars (US$7,400) for 2006 convictions of defaming Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi and endangering the security of the Algerian and Libyan states. Separately, on May 27 Omar Belhouchet, editor of the daily El Watan, and columnist Chawki Amari were sentenced for libel to two months in jail and fined 1 million dinars (US$14,000) each for comments published in El Watan in June 2006. Noureddine Boukraa of the daily Ennahar was similarly arrested on November 14 after publishing an article alleging corruption within the local security services of Annaba, and less than a week later, Ouahid Oussama, correspondent for the daily Al Bilad, faced defamation charges brought by the Department of Education of Djelfa for an article criticizing the education system. Despite such persistent government harassment and the resultant self-censorship that often follows, many Algerian journalists aggressively cover government and international affairs and offer diverse opinions and political commentary. Some topics, however, are more sensitive and are subject to censorship, legal repercussions, or harassment. Coverage of issues relating to national security and terrorism is still highly restricted and a dangerous undertaking for any journalist. For example, Anis Rahmani, editor of Echourok el-Youmi, and Naila Berrahal, a journalist with the paper, were the targets of death threats in June from individuals claiming to be affiliated with al-Qaeda for their reporting criticizing the organization and Islam. In August, Rahmani was informed by state security services that a “terrorist” in custody confirmed that the editor was indeed a target. Journalists also received pressure from the government not to report on the 2007 bomb attacks in the country, and El Watan correspondent Jamal Belkadi was charged with “crossing a security barrier” in May for taking photographs of the site of the attacks in Constantine.

Algeria began allowing for the licensing of private newspapers in 1990, and there are currently more than 100 private daily and weekly newspapers presenting a variety of political perspectives. The government uses its control over the country’s printing presses and a state advertising agency to influence the independent print media. On several occasions, authorities have punished critical newspapers by suddenly demanding payment for debts owed to the state printer. While radio and television are completely government owned, political parties and candidates reportedly received equal access to these outlets in the campaign periods leading up to both the May 17 multiparty parliamentary elections and the November 29 multiparty local elections. However, outside of election periods, opposition parties are rarely permitted access to radio or television. Nonetheless, widespread satellite dishes provide alternate sources of information, such as popular Pan-Arab stations like Al-Jazeera and European-based channels. Non-Berber-language channels have increasingly introduced programming in Tamazight (the Amazigh or Berber language), including television and radio advertisements.

The government exercises little control over the internet, but online news is not a major source of information for most Algerians. In 2007, 10.4 percent of Algeria’s population accessed the internet, which reflected a 7,000 percent increase since 2000. However, the government does monitor e-mail and internet chat rooms. Internet service providers are legally liable for the content on their websites, and bloggers are not immune to defamation charges. On June 11, blog administrator Abdulsalam Baroudi was fined 10,000 dinars (US$148) on charges brought by the director of religious affairs for having posted defamatory material on his blog in February.