Algerian journalist Abdelkrim Zeghileche was sentenced on Monday to two years in prison for his involvement in the pro-democracy movement in Algeria. A condemnation that comes the day after a meeting before the UN in Switzerland and demands an end to “arbitrary detentions”.
The name of the Algerian journalist Abdelkrim Zeghileche get ready to join list of “prisoners of conscience” which intends to present, Monday, August 24, Algerian citizens supporters of “Hirak” for UN experts.
The director of Radio-Sarbacane, an independent online radio station, was indeed sentenced to two years in prison for “undermining national unity” and “insulting the head of state”, according to his lawyers, while Algerian pro-democracy activists organized in Geneva, Switzerland, to bring the issue on arbitrary detentions in Algeria to the UN.
Nearly 300 supporters of “Hirak”, the protest movement that has shaken Algeria since February 2019, gathered on Sunday in front of the Palais des Nations, the UN’s European headquarters, to demand the release of those they consider political prisoners.
Wear Algerian flags and sing slogans such as “Freedom, we shall have it!”, “Free the prisoners!” or “the generals, in the trash!”, the protesters installed photos of several people condemned according to them for their participation in the pro-democracy movement.
“Free the prisoners!”
For several months, Algerian authorities have targeted “Hirak” activists, political opponents, journalists and Internet users, increasing the number of legal proceedings and judgments. These activists contest the December 2019 election of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former loyalist to ousted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
In Geneva, among the protesters, Karim Naït Ouslimane, the founder of the organization “Rebuilding Algeria” which unites Algerian leaders living abroad, expressed its desire to deconstruct the “current established mafia system”.
“We have come especially to defend the cause of opinion and politics in Algeria, to also defend journalists in prison and to carry the Algerian people who have been campaigning and fighting peacefully for more than a year for the establishment of a true democratic state. He told AFP.
Journalists in prison
The heavy punishment against Abdelkrim Zeghilèche, two weeks after that against the journalist Khaled Drareni, illustrates the Algerian authorities’ desire to stifle the most virulent public criticism of the regime.
Abdelkrim Zeghilèche, who has been arrested since June 24, is particularly accused of publishing on Facebook demanding the establishment of a new political party.
“Now, all Algerian opponents, as soon as they speak, we stick to them ‘attack on national unity’ to imprison them,” lamented the lawyer, Me Djamel Aissiouane. “Abdelkrim Zeghilèche was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 100,000 dinars (660 euros). The document is empty. We will appeal,” he added.
On August 10, 2020, Khaled Drareni, head of the news website Casbah Tribune and correspondent for TV5 Monde in Algeria, was sentenced to three years in prison for “employing an unarmed congregation” and “undermining national unity”.
International solidarity campaign
The very harsh verdict shocked his colleagues in Algeria and beyond. An international campaign for solidarity has been launched by defenders of press rights and the protection of journalists. Demonstrations in favor of his release were organized in Paris, New York and Geneva.
Abdelkrim Zeghilèche was released on March 4 in another trial: the Constantine prosecutor has since demanded six months in prison against him and his colleague Lynda Nacer for “hiring an unarmed assembly” after a call – towards the fifth term of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in early 2019 .
In recent months, journalists have been accused by the regime of sawing disunity, threatening national interest and, in particular, of paying “foreign parties”. Several are in prison and trials are ongoing.
Algeria is shown in 146e place (out of 180) in the world ranking for world press freedom 2020 prepared by Reporters Without Borders. It fell 27 places compared to 2015.