- The jailing of two Algerian journalists, Mohammed Benchicou, publisher of the daily newspaper 'Le Matin' and Hafnaoui Ghoul, a journalist and human rights activist, could signal the start of "a wave of attacks on independent journalism" following the recent re-election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika warned Algerian and international media leaders in Brussels today.
A delegation of media leaders from Algeria and international journalists' groups called for an international action plan to counter what they see as "a politically-motivated campaign by Algerian politicians to deal with opposition newspapers and opinions in the aftermath of the election."
According to the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Algeria is currently suffering from a "media crisis" that calls for international action. The IFJ, which represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries, organised a seminar in the Belgian capital to organise international pressure against the Bouteflika regime.
Among the proposals is a decision by the IFJ to relaunch its media crisis centre in Algeria, which was set up in the mid-1990s to assist journalists in the midst of a murderous terror campaign by fundamentalists who targeted journalists among other professional groups. At that time, almost 100 journalists and media staff were killed.
- The latest crisis arises from actions against the country's lively private press, which is often critical of the authorities, IFJ says in a press release. During the last months, incidents victimising the independent press have increased dramatically in Algeria.
'Le Matin' publisher Benchicou was sentenced to two years in jail for a foreign currency offence, which press freedom groups are convinced is an excuse to penalise a persistent critic of the government, and journalist Ghoul was sentenced to two months for "defamation and outrage" after an interview he gave to 'Le Soir d'Algérie' about the national human rights situation.
- We have to build a new alliance of solidarity between Algerian journalists and their colleagues in Europe and around the world, said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ and chair of the discussion. "These latest actions must be challenged, our colleagues must be set free and the government must respect international standards of press freedom," he added.
The meeting agreed to seek support for a permanent structure, which is to "monitor the progress of press freedom violations and intimidation against journalists in Algeria," and to appeal directly to the European Union to protest against "repressive measures taken by the Algerian authorities against the freedom of the press in Algeria."
The meeting noted that the actions against journalists flout agreements signed between the EU and Algeria. "We must develop an international action to defend press freedom in Algeria," said Mr White. "And that includes being on the spot to respond when these attacks take place."
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