Algeria - Call for legislative reform after El Watan journalists sent to prison



    MONTREAL, March 5 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders condemned an
appeal court ruling yesterday upholding a two-month prison sentence for
defamation against editor of the daily El Watan, Omar Belhouchet, and
journalist Chawki Amari.
    In another case, a journalist on the daily Echourouk El Youmi was
sentenced to pay four million dinars (almost 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 kms 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 had been several procedural irregularities but the judges had refused to
take into account his objections. He said he would appeal to the Supreme
Court.
    Elsewhere, police on 3 March summoned the El Watan correspondent in El
Tarf in north-east Algeria, Slim Sadki, over a defamation suit brought 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 after he criticised 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 2008. Look up the chapter on Algeria
(http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25428).




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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