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Provincial reporter sentenced to two months in prison two years after leaving newspaper

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the two-month prison sentence which an appeal court in Saida (440 km southwest of Algiers) imposed on journalist Hassan Bourras on 28 October 2008 in addition to the fine of 40,000 dinars (460 euros) to which he was originally sentenced.

The court issued the additional sentence after upholding his conviction on charges of libel and "attacking state institutions" in connection with an article published two years ago in the Arabic-language daily "Al-Bilad", in which he criticised the municipal administration of El-Bayadh (650 km southwest of the capital).

"We are shocked to learn that Bourras' sentence has been rendered much more severe by the appeal court, although it was Bourras who filed the appeal," Reporters Without Borders said. "Bourras was the first journalist to suffer under the new criminal code adopted in 2001, receiving a one-year prison sentence."

The press freedom organisation added: "The failure to respect correct judicial procedure, the severity of this new sentence and his recent summons by the intelligence services all illustrate the kind of methods used by the Algerian authorities to harass independent journalists."

The 28 October ruling was the outcome of the appeal that Bourras filed against the fine he received from a local court on 24 March for two articles he wrote in 2006 about the administration of El-Bayadh, which had elicited several complaints against him by the city's prefect, the regional health authorities and the health workers union.

Two months before the appeal court's verdict, Bourras was summoned on 1 September by the Intelligence and Security Department (DRS), questioned about protest movements in the south of the country and warned not to write about them.

Bourras, who left "Al-Bilad" in 2006, told Reporters Without Borders he was not notified that his appeal was being heard by the court, which issued its ruling without him or his lawyer being present. He plans to appeal against the appeal court's ruling when it has been formally notified to him.

"I am the victim of this government and its repressive laws for journalists," he said. "I have been taken to court several times since 2001 to defend what I have written. I am used to dealing with the Algerian courts and police, but this recent preventive intervention by the intelligence services, warning me not to cover the unrest in the south, shows that senior government officials have me in their sights."

In 2003, Bourras was sentenced to two years in prison and was banned from working as a journalist for five years in connection with articles about two corruption cases that he wrote for the Oran-based regional daily "El Djazairi".

He was imprisoned from 6 November to 2 December 2003. Then an appeal court reduced his sentence to damages of 100,000 dinars (1,100 euros) and a fine of 10,000 dinars (about 100 euros). While still held, he went on hunger strike to protest his detention.

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