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IFJ condemns latest legal actions against the independent press

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 27 January 2005 IFJ press release:

IFJ condemns latest threat to suspend independent publications in Algeria

The International Federation of Journalists' Algerian Centre has condemned the latest court decisions against four privately-owned dailies, describing the legal action as a "totalitarian drift aimed at silencing the last forum for democracy and free expression [in the country] once and for all."

On Tuesday [25 January], an Algiers court issued several verdicts that clearly demonstrate the authorities' efforts to financially squeeze privately-owned newspapers out of existence. The editors of the Arabic-language dailies El Watan and El Khabar received suspended six-month prison sentences and were ordered to pay several thousand dinars in fines. Legal action was originally brought against the papers by the General Directorate for National Security, in coordination with the Interior Ministry.

In another case, the Public Prosecutor's Office has asked the courts to suspend the daily Le Soir d'Algérie for six months. One of the paper's columnists received a suspended six-month prison sentence and was heavily fined for "damaging the head of state's reputation". Le Soir d'Algérie's former publication director and current Ethics Council president was also convicted. Farid Allilat, the former editor of Liberté newspaper, also received a suspended six-month sentence and a fine for defaming the president.

This year, the IFJ will launch a campaign to help its affiliates' free expression programmes, by encouraging governments to abandon their attempts to criminalise defamation. The organisation will continue to support the Algerian press. "The Algerian people and the international community must express solidarity [with the privately-owned press] in light of these efforts to deal a final death blow to freedom of expression in Algeria," IFJ Algeria Centre Coordinator Nadir Benseba said.

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