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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Algeria

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Algeria, February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5655ce.html [accessed 20 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 of December 31, 1998

The bloody civil war between the military-backed regime and militant Islamist groups, now into its seventh year, has made Algeria one of the most isolated and difficult environments for journalists. In October, CPJ representatives conducted the organization's first fact-finding mission to the country, meeting with dozens of journalists, editors, lawyers, and government officials in Algiers. The mission's findings and CPJ's recommendations to the Algerian government appear in a special report.

After years of working under constant threat of death, the targeting of journalists for assassination has apparently ceased – for the second year, no journalists were killed in the line of duty. Some members of the press exhibited more daring, tackling such previously taboo subjects as atrocities committed by state-backed militias, the issue of "disappeared" persons, and allegations of high-level government corruption. And despite some recurrent difficulties reporting from the scenes of political violence that continue to punctuate the conflict, journalists are generally able to work in the field on the massacres and bombings. The government's decision in December 1997 to abolish the notorious "reading committees" it had set up at printing houses in 1996 to enforce pre-publication censorship on accounts of the war has enhanced newspapers' ability to publish independent news about the strife.

Nevertheless, many details about the civil war remain out of the public eye. Self-censorship, problems obtaining information, and residual fear among reporters for their safety continue to keep news about crucial issues such as government rights abuses and the counterinsurgency war out of the newspapers.

Authorities maintain their policy of providing mandatory escorts for foreign reporters, severely curtailing the ability to conduct serious investigative journalism. Journalists also have trouble obtaining visas to enter the country; those denied access complained that authorities had singled them out for what they perceived as unfavorable reporting on the political situation. The lack of foreign news outlets in the country – only Agence France-Presse maintains a bureau in Algiers – has led to reliance on the local media for information.

Privately owned publications remained subject to the often arbitrary practices of the country's state-owned printing facilities. The state printer forced the month-long closure of two leading dailies, El-Watan and Le Matin, in October on the pretext of outstanding debts, after they published articles critical of both a former adviser to President Liamine Zeroual and the former Minister of Justice.

Criminal defamation statutes continued to pose a threat to journalists. Although new criminal prosecutions of editors and reporters for their coverage of the conflict now appear to be a thing of the past, journalists were implicated in suits brought by public officials or with apparent political motivations.

At year's end, a newly drafted information code stood before parliament, set to replace the 1990 law. The draft offered several reforms, including abolishing the penalty of imprisonment for journalists convicted of publications offenses and permitting the privatization of broadcast media. The bill, however, grants authorities considerable latitude to punish independent reporting through exorbitant fines for offenses such as defamation. Critics have expressed their concern that authorities will use the law to economically cripple outspoken newspapers.

Journalists felt more secure perhaps than at any time since suspected armed militants launched a vicious assassination campaign in 1993, claiming the lives of 58 journalists between 1993 and 1996. "Now it's all over," said one reporter from the state-owned television station ENTV. "I go shopping where I live. I feel secure. The pressure and terrorism has really subsided." Still, journalists remain cautious in their daily routine, fearful of a possible resumption of attacks. Hundreds remain housed in cramped, government-run hotels under armed guard. Indicative of their safety concerns were the vehement protests of a government attempt in July to relocate some 70 journalists from the government-run Mazafran Hotel in the town of Zaralda. Journalists argued that the proposed location, the Matares Hotel in Tipaza, would jeopardize their security because of its considerable distance from the capital, where most regularly commute to work. Four journalists went on a hunger strike that lasted more than three weeks, while privately run newspapers observed a one-day strike in a show of solidarity with their colleagues. The government eventually acquiesced to the pressure, accommodating the journalists at the Al-Manar Hotel in Sidi Faraj.

CPJ continued to press the Algerian government for information about "disappeared" journalists Djamel Eddine Fahassi and Aziz Bouabdallah, who were apprehended by men presumed to be security agents on May 7, 1995, and April 12, 1997, respectively. In a meeting with Communications Minister Habib Chawki Hamraoui on October 27, 1998, a CPJ delegation led by board member Peter Arnett urged the government to locate and ensure the safety of the missing journalists.

Attacks on the Press in Algeria in 1998

DateJournalistIncident
10/17/98El-WatanCensored
10/17/98Le MatinCensored
10/17/98Le Soir d'AlgerieHarassed
10/17/98La TribuneHarassed
09/22/98Shafiq Abdi, Le Jeune IndependentLegal Action
09/22/98Said Tissegioune, Le Jeune IndependentLegal Action
07/01/98El-BorhaneCensored
06/16/98Touhami Madjouri, Al-Alam al-SiyassiHarassed
01/06/98Zoubir Souissi, Le Soir d'AlgerieLegal Action
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