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Algerian press decries journalists' jailing

      JEUDI 24 JUIN 2004  >>     2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005


       


ALGERIAN PRESS DECRIES JOURNALISTS' JAILING



© BBC News | Jeudi 24 juin 2004


Journalists in Algeria have set up a committee to press for the release of colleagues jailed recently in what many of them see as a government campaign to silence dissenting voices. The "Committee for the Liberation of Hafnaoui Ghoul and Mohamed Benchicou" was formed by representatives of several leading Algerian newspapers, in addition to the Union of Algerian Journalists and a national ethics council.

Mohamed Benchicou, editor of Le Matin newspaper, was imprisoned for two years and fined 20m Algerian dinars (about US$280,000) on 14 June for financial irregularities. Hafnaoui Ghoul, a correspondent and human rights activist, earlier received a two-month prison sentence for the defamation of a retired general. The editor of another leading daily, El-Khabar, Ali Djerri, was given a two-month sentence in absentia for defamation on 20 June.


'Farce'


"Free Benchicou and Ghoul" demands a banner displayed on many of the newspapers' web sites. El Watan, Le Soir d'Algerie, Le Matin and Liberte all give front-page coverage to a news conference held by the committee in Paris. Organised by the international rights organisation Reporters Without Borders, the conference was held to draw attention to what is seen as the harrassment of the press in Algeria. The jailing of Mr Ghoul and Mr Benchicou, they argued, set a dangerous precedent. Reacting to its editor's imprisonment, Le Matin says the charges against him were merely "fallacious pretexts" brought about "to silence an anti-establishment voice".


"Mohamed Benchicou is in reality paying for the robust tone of his newspaper," it argues. El Watan says lawyers "fought valiently" to show that Mr Benchicou was "the victim of a 'political-judicial farce'". "We must take our hats off to the shadowy judges for cleverly succeeding in fabricating a made-to-measure violation to convict Benchicou for a criminal offence," it says.


An editorial in the Arabic-language daily El Khabar writes that "journalists have been caught red-handed committing the crime of writing". Government officials, it says, insist that there is no retreat from the principle of the freedom of the press. "This is what they used to tell us about socialism," the paper comments. "Journalists are being oppressed and tried, not for misdemeanours and felonies punishable by law, but rather because they are journalists," it goes on. "We are sure that, as long as we write, criticise and investigate, we will be criminals". Several papers comment that attacks on journalists are not a new phenomenon. But, says Liberte, journalists will not give up. "Even if the fight is unequal," it says, "journalists - confident of the cause that they are defending - will never throw in the towel."



BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio,
television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages


 
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