See also:
» 21.04.2009 - Bouteflika told to redress rights violations in Algeria
» 28.10.2008 - IFJ condemns conviction of Algerian journalist
» 19.09.2008 - IFJ request Algeria to respect journalist right
» 25.04.2005 - No pardon for journalists in Algeria
» 29.11.2004 - Algerian human rights activist released
» 13.08.2004 - "Political sentencing" of Algeria journalists
» 01.07.2004 - Al-Jazeera's activities in Algeria suspended
» 25.06.2004 - Concern over "media crisis" in Algeria

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Leading Algerian daily threatened with closure

afrol News, 5 March - The popular private-owned Algerian daily 'Le Matin' is threatened with closure over non-payment of back taxes. The newspaper and its editor, Mohamed Benchicou, recently have caused national and international sensation by heavily criticising President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is desperately fighting for his re-election.

Algeria's Internal Revenue Department has given the private daily 'Le Matin' a deadline of 6 March to pay Algerian dinars 39 million (euro 450,000) in back taxes or risk closure. The newspaper has signalised it doesn't have the means to pay the amount at once at such a short notice and if a compromise is not found, it will probably have to close down.

On 15 October 2003, 'Le Matin' learned that it had been ordered to pay back taxes of 90 million dinars (euro 1 million) for the period running from 1998 to 2001. The daily was granted a deferment and allowed to pay half of the amount demanded (dinars 45 million or euro 520,000). On 1 March, the Internal Revenue Department demanded that 'Le Matin' pay the remaining 39 million dinars in back taxes within one week.

The independent 'Le Matin' has developed into one of the most outspoken media in Algeria. The daily keeps a non-Islamist profile, but at the same time openly criticises the Bouteflika government, which it describes as corrupt. 'Le Matin' has uncovered several corruption scandals.

In addition, the paper's managing editor, Mohamed Benchicou, recently published a book entitled, 'Bouteflika: an Algerian fraud', in which he was very critical of the President and accused Interior Minister Noureddine Zerhouni of outright corruption. Algerian police failed in their attempts to stop the publication of the book, which also included searches at the premises of 'Le Matin'.

In the current strained pre-election mood in the country, President Bouteflika's main supporters - the military and police - have redoubled their efforts to control the information stream in the country. Mr Bouteflika faces strong competition at the 8 April presidential polls, in particular from ex-Prime Minister Ali Benflis, who also accuses the President of corruption.

The news of the Internal Revenue Department's ultimatum to 'Le Matin' therefore has been interpreted as "an effort to silence the newspaper." This view has been presented by the Algiers newspaper itself and in a statement released today by the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF).

RSF said today it was "not calling into question the Internal Revenue Department's right to audit media outlets." However, the group urged Algerian authorities to work with 'Le Matin' in order to establish a repayment schedule. "RSF cautions the Algerian government of the disproportionate consequences that may arise from the daily's closure," the statement said.

According to RSF, tensions between President Bouteflika and the independent press have worsened since August 2003, with the authorities "carrying out a harassment campaign aiming to silence newspapers the presidential clan consider too irreverent, against a background of upcoming elections."

Also several imams have recently attacked the independent press, calling them "apostates" and "enemies of Islam". Given the history of violence and killings by Islamist groups in Algeria, such accusations normally are very dangerous to the persons they are directed at. President Bouteflika is believed to be close to the imams that made these statements in late February.

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