Algerian media freer but not free, RSF

Algerian media freer but not free, RSF

Algeria Interface, november 26, 2002

Press freedom in Algeria is threatened by lawlessness and corruption now that Islamist violence has abated, says rights report.

Paris, 26 November 2002 – In a just published report on press freedom in Algeria, French campaign group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) believes that « journalists are still a long way from freely plying their trade even though threats from armed Islamist groups have abated.”

The RSF document comes in the wake of a fact-finding mission in Algeria in October, where it observed « intimidation, pressure, attacks and court cases chiefly from local potentates, businessmen and the Aarch [Kabyle grassroots protest movement]. »

The report is published in four chapters, the first of which addresses the situation of the local press. Some correspondents do not even have a telephone, never mind Internet connections. More worryingly, they are subject to threats and attacks from local dignitaries that go unpunished.

The most tragic case is that of Abdelhaï Beliardouh, a correspondent in eastern town of Tebessa for French-language daily El Watan. Abducted and abused on July 20th by the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Sâad Guerboussi, he committed suicide by swallowing acid. Mr Beliardouh had alleged in an article that Guerboussi was involved in money laundering for the GIA.

Taboo subjects
The second part of the RSF report deals with the Berber area of Kabylia, that has been torn by unrest and violence for 18 months.
There journalists have been caught in the crossfire between militant Aarch and the security forces.

A cameraman is in a serious condition after being hit by a teargas grenade, others have been attacked by policemen, and others arrested and questioned.

RSF reports that journalists have also been molested by Aarch activists. Ali Ben Châabane of French-language daily, L’Expression, describes how he ran a series of pieces on decline of the protest movement and how it was turning to extortion. « I got a phone call one evening and voice said ‘You’ll be dead by six this evening’. I knew who it was, it was one of the brothers of Belaïd Abrika, a high-profile Aarch leader. »

Taboo topics are the subject of the reports third section. Corruption, the impunity of the intelligence forces and human rights, one witness told RSF, were all subjects that the press refused to address. The issue of Algeria’s thousands of missing persons is another sensitive question, even though same papers have in recent years turned over column space to the friends and relatives of the « forcibly disappeared’.

Finally, RSF looks at the press and the law in the wake of the draft of the Information Bill, published in October on the Communication and Culture Ministry’s website. RSF was pleased to see there was no provision for prison terms, but stresses that under the terms of a 2001 amendment to the Penal Code journalists risk heavy fines and prison.

Karim Aït-Ouméziane

Press freedom in Algeria is threatened by lawlessness and corruption

On July 20th, Abdelhaï Beliardouh who reported for French-language daily, El Watan, from Tébessa in eastern Algeria, published a piece describing the arrest of the president of the local Chamber of Commerce, Sâad Guerboussi. He alleged that Guerboussi has been arraigned on suspicion of involvement in funding and money laundering for terrorist group, the GIA.
On the day the piece appeared, Guerboussi and three Chamber of Commerce colleagues, one of whom was armed, went to Abdelhaï Beliardouh’s home. They beat him up in front of his family and dragged him violently through the streets of Tebessa to Sâad Guerboussi’s villa for « interrogation ».
El Watan stresses that neither the police or paramilitary gendarmes came to Beliardouh’s assistance. The paper has filed a case against Guerboussi for abduction and intimidation. He denied the charges. After being questioned by an investigating magistrate he was released.
On October19th, a distressed Abdelhaï Beliardouh attempted suicide by swallowing acid. He was taken to hospital in Algiers where he died on the night of November 19.