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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Algeria

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Algeria, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c564f3c.html [accessed 22 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

As the fourth year of brutal civil conflict came to an end, journalists continued to face great peril, and Algeria remained the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. Since the army canceled parliamentary elections in January 1992 to prevent victory by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an estimated 60,000 people have died as a result of the ensuing violence. Meanwhile, both sides of the conflict continue to victimize the press.

Since May 1993, 59 journalists have been murdered – presumed to be the work of Islamist militants seeking to overthrow the current government. In 1996 alone, seven journalists were assassinated, while several other media employees met similar fates. Strict government censorship of independent reporting on "security matters" has helped to fuel the Islamists' campaign against the press. Factions such as the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) – which has claimed responsibility for nearly half the total number of journalists' murders in Algeria – indiscriminately kill journalists for what they view as the media's complicity with the Algerian government. The Islamists' perception of the press stems in part from official censorship of news relating to security forces' casualties or human rights abuses and the exclusion of Islamist viewpoints. Emergency law, for example, grants the state sweeping power to prosecute journalists whom it deems a threat to state security. Governmental decrees forbid newspapers to publish any stories on the conflict except those from the state-run Algerian Press Service (APS).

In February, the government further tightened its control over the press, establishing "reading committees" to ensure that stories on the civil strife conform with official accounts. The independent daily La Tribune summarized the overall effect of government restrictions, noting that "[p]ublications must stick to terse statements carried by the [official] Algerian Press Service (APS) which report the number of terrorists shot dead by the forces of order but ignore the death of tens of thousands of civilians and spectacular operations by armed gangs."

Independent newspapers are, in effect, forced to walk a tightrope. Either they censor their own news stories and face the wrath of Islamists (who use the assassination of journalists as a way of getting into the papers), or they expose themselves to legal prosecution from the state and their publications to lengthy suspensions. Either they reprint APS stories, or ignore security matters altogether. In 1996, authorities continued to confiscate newspapers at the state printing press for articles that failed to conform to state guidelines.

Journalists were also subject to punitive measures for publishing material beyond the scope of "internal security." In July, Chawki Amari, a cartoonist for the independent daily La Tribune, was charged with defaming the Algerian flag for a cartoon satirizing the political situation in Algeria. An appeals court, on Sept. 3, upheld a three-year suspended prison sentence against him. In addition to Amari, the paper's publisher and editor in chief also received suspended prison sentences and the paper was subsequently banned for six months. In another case, state prosecutors summoned Omar Belhouchet, editor in chief of the independent daily Al-Watan, for questioning in regard to a libel accusation by the brother of a former government official. Although the charges against Belhouchet were later dropped, he remained under judicial supervision for nearly a month.

In addition to the blanket censorship of security matters, the authorities use more subtle means to constrain political discourse in the press. The government controls the supply of newsprint and owns the printing presses and is thus able to put economic pressure on newspapers. The state also wields considerable authority over the distribution of advertising, giving preferential treatment to those newspapers whose editorial line on the conflict most closely matches the government's. When subtle means fail to restrain the press, the Interior Ministry suspends publications and summons reporters to court.

Foreign reporters traveling to Algeria continue to face restrictions on their freedom of movement. The government, citing security concerns, prevents foreign correspondents from moving around the country freely and meeting with opposition figures. This was the case for many foreign reporters trying to cover the country's Nov. 28 constitutional referendum.

As 1996 came to a close, at least one journalist, Abdelkader Hadj Benaamane, a correspondent for APS, remained in prison. A state military court sentenced him in July 1995 to three years in prison for "attacking the security of the state and national unity." The charges apparently stemmed from an internal APS news wire, which reported on the whereabouts of imprisoned FIS leaders Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj. Another journalist, Djamel Fahassi, a reporter with the government-run French-language radio station Alger Chaine III and a former contributor to the now-banned Al-Forqane – a weekly organ of the FIS – was arrested by security forces in May 1995. Although witnesses and family members attest that security forces apprehended Fahassi, authorities continue to deny his arrest and his whereabouts remain unknown.

January 10
Mohamed Mekati, El Moudjahid, KILLED

Mekati, a correspondent for the government-owned newspaper El Moudjahid, died from gunshot wounds. He was shot the previous day, as he was returning from work, by unidentified gunmen near his home in Ain Naadja, a southwestern suburb of Algiers. In a press release, CPJ condemned the murder.

January 14
Nourredine Guittoune, L'Idependant, ATTACKED

Guittoune, owner and editor in chief of the daily L'Independant, was gravely wounded in an attack by unidentified gunmen in Algiers. Khaled Aboulkacem, a librarian at the newspaper, was shot and killed in the attack.

February 10
Abdallah Bouhachek, Revolution et Travaille, KILLED

Bouhachek, editor of Revolution et Travaille, the weekly organ of Algeria's largest workers union (UGTA), was shot and killed by unknown assailants near the town of Blida, south of Algiers, while on his way to work. CPJ condemned the murder in a press release and called on all parties to the conflict to respect the status of journalists as civilian noncombatants.

February 10
All journalists, CENSORED

The Ministry of Interior ordered newspaper editors to submit "unofficial"accounts of security incidents to a government censor. Newspapers are only allowed to carry stories about the country's security situation that have been supplied by the official Algerian Press Service. In a press release, CPJ condemned the policy, noting that the government was further endangering journalists by forcing them to print state propaganda.

February 11
Allaoua Ait M'barak, Le Soir d'Algerie, KILLED
Mohamed Dorbane, Le Soir d'Algerie, KILLED
Djamel Derraz, Le Soir d'Algerie, KILLED
Le Matin, ATTACKED
L'Opinion, ATTACKED
El Watan, ATTACKED

Ait M'barak, editor in chief of the independent evening daily Le Soir d'Algerie; Dorbane, a columnist with the newspaper; and Derraz, a writer with the paper's leisure section, were killed when a car bomb exploded outside the newspaper's office, which is located in the Maison de la Presse Tahar Djaout building in Algiers. In a press release, CPJ condemned the killings. The press building houses several independent newspapers. The offices of the dailies Le Matin, L'Opinion and El Watan were damaged in the attack. No group claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Islamic fundamentalist rebels are presumed responsible. The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) has claimed responsibility for the bulk of journalists' slayings in Algeria.

March 3
La Nation, CENSORED

The March 6 issue of La Nation was banned by the Ministry of Interior. The issue featured a special report on human rights in Algeria that was co-published with the French monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique .

March 12
Djilali Arabidou, Algerie-Actualite, KILLED

Arabidou, a reporter and photographer with the French-language pro-government weekly Algerie-Actualite, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Ain Naadja, a southwestern suburb of Algiers. Arabdiou was considered by many to be the dean of Algerian photojournalists. In a press release, CPJ condemned the assassination.

March 18
La Nation, CENSORED

Authorities seized the March 19-25 edition of the French-language weekly La Nation at the state-run printing house Societe d'Impression d'Alger (SIA). No explanation was given for the seizure.

March 24
Ferran Sales, El Pais, EXPELLED

Algerian authorities withdrew the press accreditation of Sales, an Algiers correspondent for the Spanish daily El Pais. He was given seven days to leave Algiers after having worked in Algeria as El Pais's correspondent for the past five years. Sales was not given an official explanation for the measure.

March 25
La Nation, CENSORED

The Interior Ministry seized the March 25-April 1 edition of the French-language independent weekly La Nation at the state-run printing house, Societe d'Impression d'Alger (SIA). No explanation was given for the seizure.

April 7
Al-Hourria, CENSORED

The Arabic-language weekly Al-Hourria was seized by security forces at the state-run printing house where the newspaper is printed. There was no official explanation for the seizure. Al-Hourria's sister publication, the French-language La Nation, was banned three times in March.

April 14
Omar Belhouchet, El Watan, LEGAL ACTION

Belhouchet, the editor in chief of the independent daily El Watan, was summoned to the prosecutor's office and put under judicial supervision while being investigated on charges of libeling the brother of former prime minister Mokdad Sifi. For nearly a month, Belhouchet was forced to report to an examining magistrate once a week and was forbidden to leave the country. The charges against him cited an article published in El Watan on April 11, which alleged that Zoubir Sifi had been arrested for embezzling money from a state-owned com-pany.

April 25
El Watan, CENSORED

The state-run printing press, Societe d'Impression d'Alger (SIA), refused to print the April 24 edition of the French-language independent daily El Watan. SIA again refused to publish El Watan on May 7. No official explanations were given for SIA's actions. Journalists at the paper attributed the censorship to El Watan's coverage of government counterinsurgency operations.

July 3
Chawki Amari, La Tribune, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Kheireddine Ameyar, La Tribune, LEGAL ACTION
Baya Gacemi, La Tribune, LEGAL ACTION
La Tribune, CENSORED

The offices of the independent French-language daily La Tribune were sealed because the paper published a political cartoon July 2 that depicted the Algerian flag in a satiric manner. On July 4, Amari, the cartoonist, was arrested in the early morning at his home in Algiers and charged with desecrating a national emblem. He was held at Serkadji prison for nearly a month. Ameyar, the paper's publisher, and Gacemi, the editor in chief, were placed under judicial supervision and ordered to appear before the court twice a week. In a July 11 letter to Algerian authorities, CPJ denounced Amari's arrest and the suspension of La Tribune, and called on the Algerian government to end press censorship. The case went to trial on July 20. On July 31, Gacemi was acquitted, and La Tribune was allowed to resume publication. But Amari received a three-year suspended prison sentence, and Ameyar was given a one-year suspended sentence. On Aug. 6, the public prosecutor of Algeria appealed the July 31 verdict that reopened the newspaper. On Sept. 3, the court ordered La Tribune closed for six months, upheld the suspended sentences of Amari and Ameyar, and convicted Gacemi, giving her a six-month suspended sentence.

August 12
Mohamed Guessab, Algerian Radio, KILLED

Guessab, host of "Radio Koran," a religious program on Algerian Radio, was murdered by gunmen while driving with his two brothers in the Algiers suburb of Beau Fraisier. One of Guessab's brothers was also killed and the other seriously wounded when the unidentified attackers sprayed their car with gunfire. Guessab was the seventh Algerian journalist murdered in 1996 and the 59th victim since 1993 of an ongoing campaign by extremists to assassinate journalists. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but Islamic fundamentalist rebels are presumed responsible. CPJ issued a press release condemning the murder.

December 16
Al-Hourria, CENSORED

Algerian authorities seized issues of the Arabic-language weekly Al-Hourria from the state-controlled printing press in Algiers. No official reason was given for the confiscation. Spokesmen from the newspaper suspect that an interview with an opposition figure and a review of a book on the human rights situation in Algeria prompted the move. The occasion marked the third time in 1996 that authorities confiscated Al-Hourria.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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