Journalist Khaled Drareni, a critic of Algerian power, was sentenced on Monday to three years in prison. A sentence that surprised his colleagues. The ruling has a strong symbolic value for the regime, which was weakened in 2019 by widespread popular mobilization.
The verdict caught everyone without a guard. “Immoral”, “Scary”, “Cruel” … Journalists and defenders of freedom of expression have been embroiled in Algeria since being sentenced to three years in prison on Monday 10 August by journalist Khaled Drareni. Director of the online news site Casbah Tribune and correspondent for TV5 Monde and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), he was accused of “hiring an unarmed assembly” and “undermining national unity”, in connection with his coverage of “Hirak”, the popular movement that rocked Algeria for over a year. Such a punishment was not expected of his colleagues, many of whom, shocked, demanded his release. A petition in this direction, signed by hundreds of people including many journalists, has been published on the Casbah Tribune.
Khaled Drareni was sentenced to 3 years in prison
RIP, my country’s justice!
I wish I had felt you dead rather than see you so weak, cowardly, unworthy
On August 10, 2020, a terrible earthquake of immorality blew up the court in Sidi M’hamed
Freedom for Khaled Drareni! pic.twitter.com/14l2I9H8OT
– Mustapha Benfodil (@Mus_Benfodil) August 10, 2020
“Khalid Drareni’s file really resembles a ruthlessness that revolts us because the file is empty, indignant Saïd Salhi, vice president of Algeria’s defense of human rights. The accusations are unfounded. He was charged with his work as a journalist, for his views, there is no reason to “He should be imprisoned. It is a signal that is sent not only to journalists but also to all different voices, for free. It is a huge snub for freedom of speech in Algeria but also for justice.”
In the cross chairs
Khaled Drareni, 40, with his athletic physique, his outspokenness and his sometimes virulent criticism of the regime, became very popular in 2019 among supporters of “Hirak”, especially among young Algerians. He contributed, among other things through his efforts on TV5 Monde, to inform about the mobilization for a regime change from a country with very few foreign media correspondents.
Very active and much followed on social networks until his arrest and his imprisonment on March 29 near Algiers, the journalist has 147,000 subscribers on Twitter, which gave him significant power and placed him de facto in the cross chairs. authorities. During the trial, he was accused in particular of criticizing the political system on his Facebook account and of passing on the press release from a coalition of political parties in favor of a general strike, says RSF. During the trial, the journalist had assured that he had only done his “job as a freelance journalist” and exercised “his right to inform”.
FR NW GRAB DELOIRE
“Legally, the new constitution adopted in 2016 protects the freedom of the press, and you can not be detained for a press crime. So what he was accused of was urging people to demonstrate by covering demonstrations,” Christophe Deloire, general secretary of the RSF, told France 24. “What is really heartbreaking is that President Tebboune, when he took office in December 2019, demanded a new, more democratic and open Algeria.”
Fifty-five “prisoners of conscience” imprisoned
Algerian justice has increased in recent months the judicial process and the convictions of “Hirak” activists, political opponents, journalists and bloggers, despite the fact that the movement has ceased since mid-March due to the Covid epidemic -19. Some journalists have been accused by the regime of sowing discord, threatening national interests or paying “foreign parties”. Several are in prison, e.g. journalist Toubal Ali Djamel, who was sentenced on July 14 on appeal to 15 months for his Facebook posts, and lawsuits by police are common. According to a bill by National Committee for the Imprisonment of Prisoners (CNLD), 55 “prisoners of conscience” are still in prison, most for Facebook posts.
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“Algeria, a pioneer in free expression and the press in the region for three decades, cannot afford to give up these gains that have been so costly twisted by generations of journalists and activists, at the expense of enormous sacrifices and years of struggle against arbitrariness, obscurantism, authoritarianism and terrorism, laments Kamel Amarni, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists in a press release published after Khaled Drareni’s conviction.
“He was also an activist for democracy”
Other journalists, including author Abed Charef, highlight Khalid Drareni’s activism, in addition to his work as a journalist, and are surprised that this aspect is not highlighted. “Khaled Drareni was not convicted for doing his job, as many of those who claim to defend him say. He was also an activist for democracy, freedoms, for a new order. Deny the militant aspect that he is” he who is deployed in his work is impermissible and degrading to him. “
“Khalid was very committed, he was in the enthusiasm of the movement,” said an Algerian journalist based in Algiers who prefers to remain anonymous. Shocked by Monday’s conviction, he also points out that Khalid Drareni’s work was on the border between journalism and activism, a dangerous game in the current political context. “The condemnation comes in a very tense climate within the government. The regime is very paranoid, you have to be very careful about what you say, stay in deontology and objectivity. What I denied it with is to work both for a foreign media and to be insulting. , to call some people traitors to the nation.
According to this journalist, who admits that he himself has been called many times by the police, freedom of expression is no more in danger than before in Algeria with this conviction, which rather illustrates the necessary need to remain objective in order to avoid imprisonment. “We can work, even if it is not easy. We have to force the deal. The system does not play the game, it is up to us to do so and be irreversible.”
“Khalid Drareni has found himself despite a symbol, a window of ‘Hirak’ on the international,” explains Luis Martinez, a specialist in Algeria at Ceri-Sciences-Po. He has sinned with excessive enthusiasm and will change and lead the movement, sure But the political forces are still there. They want to show that the page for the 2019 presidential transition has turned. The regime sends the message to Algeria that “Being a journalist for a French channel or an NGO does not cover anything, does not allow you to say what you want. “
Algeria ranks 146th (out of 180) of the World Press Freedom Index from 2020 established by the RSF. It has lost 27 places in five years.