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Journalist summoned, faces defamation suit over critical articles; another ordered to pay 4 million dinars in damages, 26 cases brought against him since 2002

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemned an appeal court ruling on 4 March 2008 upholding a two-month prison sentence for defamation against editor of the daily "El Watan", Omar Belhouchet, and journalist Chawki Amari (see IFEX alerts of 5 March 2008, 30 May 2007 and 28 December 2006).

In another case, a journalist on the daily "Echourouk El Youmi" was sentenced to pay four million dinars (approx. 40,000 euros) in damages for a number of defamation cases.

"President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's May 2006 decision to pardon journalists sentenced to prison terms temporarily removed the spectre of imprisonment, but without a real political will to reform the press code the threat remains real," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"Since the release of journalist Mohammed Benchicou two years ago, neither the head of state nor the parliament has taken any steps to decriminalise press offences. Neither should fines imposed threaten a journalist or their media's financial integrity", it said.

The appeal court in Jijel, 360 km east of Algiers on 4 March upheld a two-month prison sentence imposed on 27 May 2007 against Omar Belhouchet and Chawki Amari of the daily "El Watan" in a libel case brought by the region's prefect, which had been adjourned from 26 February.

The paper's lawyer, Zoubeir Soudani told Reporters Without Borders that there has been several procedural irregularities but the judges refused to take into account his objections. He said he would appeal to the Supreme Court.

In a separate development, the police on 3 March summoned the "El Watan" correspondent in El Tarf in north-east Algeria, Slim Sadki, over a defamation suit brought against him by a high ranking official following the publication of articles containing accusations against the education ministry.

In another case, Yasser Abdelhai, of the daily "Echourouk El Youmi", was served notice by a court bailiff that he must pay 4 million dinars before 15 March in damages from four separate defamation trials. The journalist, who has had 26 such cases brought against him since 2002, seven of them by the current Jijel prefect, was accused of criticising the running of public affairs in the prefecture.

Algeria is ranked 123rd out of 169 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2007 world press freedom index. The organisation released its annual report on press freedom worldwide on 13 February. Look up the chapter on Algeria ( http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25428 )

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