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Heavy sentence sought on appeal in defamation case against two journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is dismayed by the heavy sentence sought on appeal against Ali Fodil and Naïla Berrahal, respectively managing editor and journalist on the Arabic-language daily "Ech-Chourouk", for allegedly defaming Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.

On 21 March 2007, the prosecutor at the Algiers appeal court called for a one-year prison sentence and a 500,000 dinar (approx. 5,300 euros) fine against the two journalists along with a one-year ban on the newspaper.

The libel suit against the two journalists was taken out in the name of the Libyan leader at the start of October 2006 by the Libyan representative in Algiers. It cited two articles, carried by the newspaper in August which referred to tensions in the region having been raised by Gaddafi's involvement in discussions with the Tuareg community in Algeria.

The Libyan leader challenged the truth of the articles, which he said had personally "damaged" him, the Libyan state and the security of both Algeria and Libya.

A lower court in Hussein-Dey, an Algiers suburb, sentenced the journalists on 31 October 2006 to six months in prison, fines of 20,000 dinars (220 euros) and 500,000 dinars in damages. The judge based the sentence on Article 144a of the criminal code relating to defamation of a head of state, an offence punishable by 12 months in prison. The court also ordered a two-month closure of the daily.

Ali Fodil and Naïla Berrahal appealed against the sentence, which their lawyer, Khaled Bergheul, described as "very harsh in relation to the facts". Sentence was adjourned, allowing the journalists to remain free while awaiting the appeal. The court in Algiers is due to hand down its sentence on 4 April.

"Algerian journalists work without protection. The terms of the press law, which the authorities refuse to amend, are vague and capable of being interpreted according to the decision of individual judges," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "Journalists are not treated fairly by the courts, which continue to serve the interests of the government," it concluded.

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