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Journalist Abdelouahab Souag fined over articles critical of cleric

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is 3 March 2009 IFJ media release:

IFJ Condemns Algerian Court Over "Press Gag"

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today expressed its concerns about attempts by Algerian courts to muzzle journalists following a court decision to fine Abdelouahab Souag, a journalist for the daily El Watan, 50,000 DA (approx. 500 euros) for publishing articles on a Muslim cleric.

"We condemn this practice of gagging the press under the cloak of justice," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "Journalists have the right to inform the public without fear or favour from those in authority."

According to press reports, Souag was fined 20000 DA (Eur 200) by a court in Mascara which also ordered him to pay 30000 DA (Eur 300) compensation to an Imam at Aïn Kahla Mosque who had brought a defamation case against him over two articles published in El Watan.

The first article, which appeared in 2006, concerned the alleged ban by the Imam on a religious ceremony in the town Mamounia, following a fatwa describing the ceremony as illegal and heretical in Islam. The 2008 article accused the cleric of attacking journalists whom he had allegedly accused of lacking patriotism.

In 2008, the IFJ criticised the three-month jail sentence handed to El Watan's director Omar Belhouchet and reporter Salima Tlemçani for exposing the activities of alleged healers who worked in Algiers without medical qualifications.

Souag has appealed against the verdict and the IFJ supports him.

"Justice requires that this decision be struck down," added White. "We are confident that the higher court will uphold the right of journalists in Algeria."

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

For more information on the Belhouchet and Tlemçani cases, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99537

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