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Court hands down three-month sentences to two journalists in defamation case

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Dismayed by Jailing of Journalists in Algeria

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned three months jail sentences handed down by a court in Algiers against two journalists in a defamation case warning that the judgement threatens the fabric of press freedom in Algeria.

"This ruling fails to take account of the vital role the press play in protecting the public from fraud and deception," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, noting that the journalists had been prosecuted for exposing how bogus healers pry on the most vulnerable in the society. "When media are penalised for exposing humbug and duplicity the fundamental basis of press freedom in a democratic society is weakened."

The case concerns a report published four years ago by El Watan newspaper about an alleged healer who practices in Algiers, Algeria. He subsequently launched a defamation suit against Omar Belhouchet and Salima Tlemçani, the paper's director and reporter, respectively.

The report exposed the activities of alleged healers who claim to cure illness despite not having any medical qualifications. Salima was able to substantiate her report by visiting the alleged healer's surgery, posing as a patient. In addition to the jail terms, the court also fined Omar and Salima 50,000 dinars (500 euros) each.

The IFJ considers the court's ruling yet another attempt by the powerful to silence investigative journalism by means of judicial interference.

"This ruling reinforces journalists' case to have all criminal press laws removed to prevent the criminal justice system being used as a shield against proper and legitimate media scrutiny of those who lay claim on power over the public," added White.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

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