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Two journalists sentenced to prison, fined for criticising local official in appeal decision

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a WAN press release:

World's Press Condemns Jail Sentences for Algerian Journalists

The World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum have protested to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika against the jail sentences imposed against two leading journalists for a column criticising a local official.

An appeals court, ruling on Tuesday, 4 March, upheld defamation convictions against Omar Belhouchet, publisher of El Watan, and columnist Chawki Amari, and sentenced them to two months in prison. In addition to the jail sentences, they were ordered to pay one million dinars (10,000 Euros) in damages to the Prefect of Jijel for comments made in a column published in El Watan in June 2006.

In a letter to the President, the Paris-based WAN and the WEF said that criminal law "is a wholly inappropriate means of dealing with the issue of defamation and that such practice contravenes a number of international agreements." It called on the President to ensure that charges were dropped and to "ensure that defamation is decriminalised in your country as soon as possible."

Mr Belhouchet, the 1994 laureate of the WAN Golden Pen of Freedom, is a well-known and respected member of the international newspaper community and El Watan is a participant in the Arab Newspaper Development Programme, designed to strengthen independent newspapers in the Arab world. "The prosecution of Mr Belhouchet and Mr Amari seriously damages the international reputation of Algeria," said the letter to the President.

The full letter can be found at

More protests against press freedom violations world-wide can be found at

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