- Local authorities in Algeria increasingly are harassing locally stationed journalists, according to reports. Anything from legal threats, death threats and physical assaults is used to pressure journalists into keeping silence about local government failures or abuse of power. An increasing number of journalists have been placed under surveillance.
According to the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), undue pressure is being placed on Algerian journalists by local officials in the provinces. Dozens of reporters and photographers reportedly are being routinely harassed, threatened and assaulted.
- Correspondents are incessantly harassed and threatened for revealing corruption and mismanagement by local authorities, RSF said in a statement today. Practicing journalism remained a very risky affair, the group noted.
In officials' efforts to silence journalists, anything was said to be fair game. "Their methods include everything from administrative and judicial harassment to death threats. We ask the local authorities to end this intolerable pressure," the RSF statement said.
The watchdog group said it was especially concerned by the situation of Elhanfaoui Ben Amer Ghoul. Mr Ghoul is a correspondent in Djelfa, 150 kilometres south of Algiers. A historian who runs the Algerian League of Human Rights' (LADDH) regional office, Mr Ghoul has been under house arrest since 15 February 2003.
According to RSF, he has faced ongoing pressure from the local administration and the security services because of his reports, including his stories on the deaths of 13 babies in Djelfa's hospital and the local police chief's abuse of power. The police chief reportedly has filed seven complaints against the journalist.
In an interview published in the 17 May 2004 edition of 'Le Soir d'Algérie' newspaper, Mr Ghoul discussed the deteriorating situation for Djelfa-based correspondents. An increasing number of journalists have been placed under surveillance since 2001, when the Djelfa police chief dismissed a journalist from the police headquarters' communications branch and subsequently closed the branch.
The journalists who expressed support for their colleague at the time had faced steady harassment ever since, Mr Ghoul holds. Certain local correspondents had been threatened and were under daily surveillance. According to Mr Ghoul, the local administration has filed at least 20 defamation complaints against journalists who have reported on financial scandals in their respective newspapers.
An article that appeared in the 17 May 2004 edition of the daily 'El Watan' - a national newspaper published in Algiers - also noted the increasing number of obstacles and pressures faced by correspondents. In Naâma, western Algeria, the local authorities have reportedly targeted Abdelkrim Sid Hadj, a correspondent from the daily 'El Khabar'.
In an open letter to President Bouteflika, the journalist accused the Naâma police chief of purposely reopening a 2002 legal case involving the previous tenant of a residence Hadj bought in 1997, in order to have his home sealed by the local authorities. Mr Hadj claimed the police chief did this in revenge for his exposure of several scandals in the press.
In addition, RSF noted that it remained "very concerned" about the situation of Hassan Bourras, a correspondent for several newspapers in El Bayadh, western Algeria, including the regional daily 'El-Djazaïri' and the national daily 'El-Youm'. Mr Bourras has been targeted for revealing several scandals.
A court in El Bayadh sentenced him to two years in prison with no parole on a defamation charge and banned him from practicing his profession for five years. He was released on appeal in December 2003, and he and his family continue to face intolerable pressure from local public figures, according to RSF.
The El Bayadh prosecutor filed a complaint against Mr Bourras for two articles that appeared in 'El Djazaïri'. One article said the local prosecutor's wife had forged a document in order to obtain a job and the other reported on a real estate scandal implicating high-ranking El Bayadh officials.
RSF today strongly condemned the "ongoing pressure being placed on journalists" by local officials in these Algerian provinces. The situation of the Algerian press has traditionally been problematic and neither national nor local authorities appreciate the media's digging into the widespread corruption and mismanagement in the country.
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