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Algeria
Mohamed Benchicou
In prison since 14 June 2004

(JPEG) Mohamed Boualem Benchicou is the editor of Le Matin (a daily newspaper that has been forced to close). He was given a two-year prison sentence for being too outspoken and has been held in El Harrach prison for the past year.

When the authorities began permitting independent news media at the end of the 1980s, Benchicou was part of the team that relaunched the daily newspaper Alger Républicain. His co-workers included Hafnaoui Ghoul, a journalist and human rights activist who spent six months in prison in 2004, and Ali Dilem, a young cartoonist who has been convicted more than once. In September 1991, Benchicou and several colleagues launched Le Matin, which became known for being outspoken and was soon targeted by the authorities.

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Benchicou was arrested at Algiers airport on his return from a trip abroad in 2003 and was accused of "breaking the law governing exchange control and capital movements." In February 2004, during President Bouteflika’s campaign for re-election, he published a scathing booklet about the president entitled, "Bouteflika, an Algerian imposter." He was imprisoned immediately after being found guilty on 14 June 2004 although is lawyers insisted that his conviction lacked any legal basis. The premises of Le Matin were sold by auction on 26 June 2004 to pay off overdue taxes and the newspaper stopped publishing on 24 July 2004.

His health has deteriorated steadily while in prison. He suffers from cervical osteoarthritis which is affecting his right arm could lead to it being paralysed. But his request for release on health grounds was rejected on 20 April. Around 50 libel complaints have been brought against him and some are still pending. Members of his newspaper’s staff as well as other journalists who irritate the authorities are subject to judicial harassment which is exercised every Tuesday in the courts of the capital, Algiers.