Two senior representatives of the state attacked the private-sector press after its violent criticism of the state president and the government concerning, in particular, the application of the law on civil concord.
On 12 January 2001 in Batna, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika set the tone: "It is indecent to give a fine of 1,000 dinars (about 15 euros) to a person who insults the state and undermines its prestige inside and outside the country. We must not confuse freedom of opinion, which is a means of promoting awareness and culture, with abuse". In February Mohammed Lamari, army chief-of-staff, added: "You have seen and will again see, in shameless writings, cartoons and so on, the outrageous and insane things said about your army. The obligation we have had until now to show reserve cannot prevent us from regretting the despicable use that is made of freedoms dearly won by our people".
Three months later, on 16 May, the general assembly passed an amendment to the penal code, causing an outcry in the media. Article 144 bis provides for jail sentences of two to 12 months and fines ranging from 50,000 to 250,000 dinars (about 750 to 3,750 euros) for any "attack on the state president in terms containing insult or defamation, whether in writing, drawing or speech, irrespective of the medium used: sound, image, electronic or computer, or any other". The prosecutor can now institute proceedings directly, without first filing a complaint. In cases of a second offence, jail sentences and fines are doubled. All these sanctions are also applicable to offences against "parliament or one of its two chambers, the ANP [the army], any public institution or any other constituent body". Since then several journalists have been sentenced to jail. As in previous years, journalists with the foreign press have had problems obtaining visas. Lastly, while covering the violently suppressed riots in Algiers in June, Fadila Nedjma, reporter with the daily Al-Chourouk, and Adel Zerrouk, from the daily Erraï, were killed accidentally in Algiers.
New information on journalists killed before 2001
On 1 January 2002 no new information had been provided by the authorities on the 57 journalists murdered between 1993 and 1996. About 40 other employees of the media were also killed during those dark years. In June 2000 representatives of the justice ministry said that in 20 cases, those responsible on their accomplices had been identified and in some instances sentenced. In all the other cases the same officials stated that a preliminary inquiry had been opened. In several affairs presented as "elucidated", at least 15 death sentences have reportedly been pronounced in absentia since 1993. The families’ lawyers have said that in some cases the police or army have blamed these murders on people arrested in the struggle against armed Islamist groups. While there is no doubt that almost all the 57 journalists were killed by armed Islamist groups, a few cases, especially of journalists close to the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front), pose a number of questions. Many people think that they were killed by services close to the government, in order to "eliminate trouble-makers, discredit terrorists and intimidate the press".
Five journalists kidnapped
Five journalists "disappeared" between 1994 and 1997.
Two of them were kidnapped by armed Islamist groups. In the other three cases, and until more in-depth investigations have been carried out, various details allow us to believe that they were kidnapped by members of the security forces.
Mohamed Hassaïne, local correspondent for the daily Alger Républicain, was kidnapped on 28 February 1994 outside his Larbatache home (Boumerdès wilaya) on his way to work. According to friends and family, the four men who kidnapped Mohamed Hassaïne belonged to armed Islamist groups. Former members of these groups affirmed that he was murdered on the same day.
Kaddour Bousselham, correspondent with the state-owned daily Horizons in Hacine in the western region of Mascara, was arrested on 29 October 1994. He was living with his family in a tent after their home was destroyed by an earthquake. He was reportedly tortured before having his throat slit by an armed Islamist group under Emir Zoubir. According to the services of the justice ministry, an inquiry was opened on 27 November 1994. On 18 February 1995 the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Djamil Fahassi, journalist with the national radio station Chaîne 3, was arrested by two individuals on 6 May 1995 as he left a restaurant. He was pushed into a car which, according to several witnesses, went through a police roadblock near El Harrach jail without any problems. The justice ministry affirmed that an inquiry had been launched by the Algiers court. The ONDH (human rights observatory), a government body, citing the national gendarmerie, said that Djamil Fahassi had been neither arrested nor taken in for questioning.
Aziz Bouabdallah, journalist with the Arabic daily El-Alam Es-Siyassi, was arrested at his Algiers home on 12 April 1997 by several men described by his family as "very well dressed, in civilian clothes, like members of the military security police". The journalist was forced into a white car. A few days later a friend of the family, a captain in the DRS, the intelligence services, said that he was responsible for the "operation" and explained that Aziz Bouabdallah had "done nothing, he simply wrote a libellous article". Two weeks later when the family tried to obtain more information, the officer had disappeared. According to the ONDH, the national gendarmerie explained that the journalist had been "kidnapped by an unidentified armed group of four men". The case was dismissed by the Algiers court on 20 May 2000 for lack of evidence but on 27 June the court of criminal appeal quashed the judgement.
On 9 July 1996 Salah Kitouni, managing editor of the national weekly El Nour, suspended in October 1992, was summoned to the Constantine police station where he had been interrogated a few days earlier. Since then his family has had no news of him. In response to their written requests, the prosecutor informed them in March 1997 that the police had handed Salah Kitouni over to the investigation department of the Fifth military region on 19 July 1996. Since then his family has had no reply to the numerous letters addressed to the ONDH, the state commissioner and the Algerian president himself.
The national consultative commission for the promotion and protection of human rights which replaced the officially dissolved ONDH in April 2001 has provided no new information on these disappearances.
A journalist arrested
On 7 May 2001 the Algiers court placed Saad Djaffar, photographer for the Arabic weekly Mechouar, under a committal order. This arrest took place after the publication of a photo of a young woman illustrating a report on prostitution in the 25 April 2001 issue of the weekly. Although the photographer admitted his mistake in court, for the young girl on the photo had nothing to do with the subject, the girl’s family decided not to drop charges. The managing editor and editor-in-chief of the weekly and the author of the article were not arrested. The photographer was released, pending the appeal court judgement.
A journalist attacked
A policeman assaulted Nadir Bensebaa, from the daily Le Matin, on 25 May 2001 while he was covering riots in Tizi Ouzou. According to the journalist, the policeman broke his truncheon on his back and kicked and punched him even though he had shown him his press card. Other policemen witnessing the scene intervened only when the journalist was on the ground. Nadir Bensebaa was hospitalised and off work for five days.
Pressure and obstruction
In early April 2001 the 29 March issue of the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, featuring a section on Algeria headed "Autopsy of the massacres", was banned. The April issue of the French monthly Le Monde diplomatique suffered the same fate. In an article entitled "The war carries on in Algeria", the researcher Lahouari Addi noted that: "...this press freedom used against a largely formal power, that of the president, devoid of any real authority, serves only to maintain a kind of magic that transforms an authoritarian and repressive regime into a democratic one - which moreover presents the army as the last bastion against the fundamentalist bogey".
The regional managing editor of the daily El Watan in Tlemcen, Chahreddine Berriah, was sentenced on 29 May to eight months’ imprisonment by the Ghazaouet court. The journalist was charged with "libel" following a complaint by several inhabitants of Boukanoun. He appealed.
Several French media - including Liberation, Le Figaro and Le Monde - which applied for Algerian visas to cover the French foreign trade minister’s visit to Algiers on 14 June, received no reply. This was equivalent to a refusal. It was in November only, for the official visit of French president Jacques Chirac to North Africa, that Thierry Oberlé from Le Figaro and José Garçon from Libération were finally granted the visas they had applied for repeatedly over a period of several months.
Faouzia Ababsa, managing editor of the daily L’Authentique, was sentenced on 11 July to six months in jail and a fine of 1,500 dinars (about 22 euros) for "libel" against Abdelkrim Mahmoudi, president of a financial managers’ association, after accusing him of embezzlement. On 18 July L’Authentique received 22 summonses to appear in court, all initiated by former terrorist Ahmed Merah. The managing editor of the daily denounced the "legal harassment" of her publication and filed an appeal.
The Arabic weekly El Mouaad el Djazairi was removed from news stands on 26 November after distribution. Managing editor Abdelkader Talbi was summoned by the security police on 27 and 28 November. No notification was issued before the seizure and the services that carried it out were not identified. According to El Mouaad el Djazairi journalists, this sanction was related to the last editorial in the weekly which accused the state of practising a type of terrorism that was more dangerous than that practised by the terrorists themselves. "A terrorism that enjoys doing everything it undertakes, even collective killing", wrote the editor, pointing a finger at the government after the 10 November floods that left many people dead.
According to the 27 November issue of the daily Le Jeune Indépendant, "it may be that the reasons for the seizure of the weekly are related to the long series of articles on the murder of Abdelkader Hachani, the leader of the defunct FIS". The title was suspended for a renewable six-month period, in accordance with the terms of the state of emergency in force since 1992.