Three Algerian journalists were detained on defamation and privacy violation charges last month, with one remaining behind bars pending further trial.
The wave of journalists’ arrests started on October 22, Algeria’s National Press Day, when Adlène Mellah, director of the online news sites Algérie Direct and Dzair Presse, was reportedly detained and charged with insult to official institutions, recording without consent and violation of privacy. The following day, two additional journalists, Algérie Part Editor-in-Chief Abdou Semmar and journalist Merouane Boudiab, were arrested on charges of defamation and violation of privacy.
The charges were filed by the director of Algerian media company TV Ennahar, Anis Rahmani; the governor of Algiers Province, Abdelkader Zoukh; and the Algerian electronics company Condor, according to media reports and International Press Institute (IPI) sources. Mellah, Semmar and Boudiab had reported on corruption allegations involving the complainants as well as relations between the complainants and politicians, including Algeria’s president.
The first court hearing in the case against Semmar and Boudiab was held on November 8. The journalists were released from pre-trial detention by court order, but the charges remain. The court ordered a further investigation to be carried out into the matter. Prosecutors are requesting a one-year prison sentence.
Mellah remains behind bars. Hassan Brahmi, a lawyer representing Mellah, told IPI that he had filed a request for Mellah’s immediate release and dismissal of all charges. Brahmi said he considers the charges groundless and Mellah has denied any wrongdoing. Brahmi also pointed out that the Algerian Constitution forbids jailing journalists for their work.
The request for Mellah’s release, however, was rejected by an Algiers court on November 11.
IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen echoed the call for Mellah’s release.
“There is wide-ranging consensus among international human-rights bodies that insult and defamation – particularly when the plaintiff is a public official – should never be met with criminal sanctions”, he said. “The prosecution and detention of Adlène Mellah directly violates those principles. He should be released and any criminal charges should be dropped.”
Brahmi also confirmed that Mellah had received medical treatment several times during his detention. Mellah is currently held in El Harrach prison near Algiers, the country’s capital. His family has not been able to visit him.
Mellah and three of his colleagues were previously arrested in June following an article revealing an extensive drug traffic ring and allegations of corruption in the port of Oran in Algeria.
The recent wave of journalists’ arrests comes less than six months before the presidential election in Algeria, scheduled for April 2019.