The following is a joint statement signed by 23 international and local civil society organisations and published on 6 July 2016.
The undersigned organisations urge the Algerian authorities to put a stop to rising attacks on critical journalists and media outlets and bring media legislation in line with Algeria's international human rights obligations and constitutional guarantees.
Attacks on independent journalists and human rights defenders have intensified over the past months in Algeria. This includes the arrest of two senior staff at a privately owned TV channel. Mehdi Benaissa, Director of the television station Khabar Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and his colleague Ryad Hartouf were arrested on 24 June.
The arrests are believed to be related to the broadcasting of two satirical TV shows Ki Hna Ki Nass Nass (“We are like anyone else”) and Ness Estah (“People of the roof”). The shows deal with political, economic, and social issues, including allegations of corruption against long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and other government officials.
Benaissa and Hartouf are charged with complicity in the abuse of position and falsifying permits under Article 223 of the Algerian Penal Code, Benaissa's lawyer told reporters. If convicted, Benaissa and Hartouf face sentences of up to 10 years in prison on the first charge, and up to three years on the second, according to reports.
Mounia Nedjai, an officer at the Ministry of Culture in charge of licensing, was also arrested, charged with abuse of position under Articles 33 and 42 of Law 06-01 on Corruption, which carry up to 10 years in prison.
The arrests follow the June inauguration of the new regulatory body, the Audiovisual Broadcasting Authority, set up in accordance with the restrictive 2014 Law on Audiovisual Activity, which has imposed unduly restrictive registration requirements on audio-visual media in the country.
Security forces closed the studio where Ki Ki Hna Nass was filmed on 19 June, with authorities saying the closure was because the studio had been used by the shuttered station Atlas TV, according to reports. Atlas TV was shut down by the government after a police raid in 2014, according to reports. Another channel, Al Watan TV, was also closed down in 2015.
Algeria ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1989 and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights in 1987. The country's 2016 constitutional revision guarantees media freedom, without censorship.
KBC belongs to the El Khabar media group, which publishes a daily newspaper of the same name.
The Algerian government recently opposed the sale of El Khabar media group to Issad Rebrab, who owns the daily newspaper Liberté and is reported to be the wealthiest businessman in Algeria. The government invoked an anti-monopoly law to prevent the sale, with Rebrab's lawyers and local and international groups calling the government decision “politically motivated.”
Research by the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters without Borders (RSF) made public in May showed that only four out of 58 private TV channels operating in Algeria “actually have permission to do so.” The research found that those four channels, Dzair TV, Ennahar TV, El Djazair and Echourouk TV, “are all known for not being very critical of the government.”
In another move, security forces prevented the daily El Watan from moving to its new offices in Algiers on 23 June, saying they lacked an “operating certificate.” El Watan journalists say they see this move as part of the high price they pay for their critical journalism.
The undersigned organisations reiterate their solidarity with all independent journalists and media workers targeted for their work in the Arab region and urge the Algerian authorities to:
- Unconditionally release Mehdi Benaissa, Ryad Hartouf and Mounia Nedjai, and to return to KBC its production equipment so it can resume operating fully;
- Stop resorting to abusive administrative procedures to ban and criminalise freedom of expression and independent journalism;
- Amend all legislation used to jail media workers for doing their job and which is not in line with the revised Constitution or international human rights law, in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Signed by:Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Committee to Protect Journalists
International Press Institute
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH)
Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia (CRLDHT)
Freedom Now, Morocco
Free Press Unlimited
Front Line Defenders
Group for the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (CFDA)
International Media Support (IMS)
Libya Al-Mostakbal Centre for Media & Culture
National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), Tunisia
Tunisian Association for the Defense of Academic Values (ATDVU)
Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD)
Tunis Centre for Press Freedom, Tunisia
Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES)
Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH)