International media watchdogs criticized Algeria’s repressive measures to intimidate journalists and demanded the immediate release of journalist and fixer Saïd Chitour who has been held in pretrial detention on allegations of spying for over a month.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) released a statement denouncing as “excessive” the pretrial detention of Chitour, and expressing concern over his health condition because he suffers from diabetes.
“There are no grounds for keeping Chitour in pretrial detention,” said RSF, adding that “everyone is innocent until proved guilty and pretrial detention is an exceptional measure that must be justified by clearly stated circumstances, such as a danger of flight or a threat to public order. Neither exists in this case, so Chitour’s detention is excessive.”
Chitour, who worked for BBC and the Washington Post among others, was held in prison ever since the intelligence services arrested him after his landing at Algiers international airport on June 5.
He faces accusations under article 65 of the penal code providing for “life imprisonment for anyone who, with the intention of passing them to a foreign power, gathers intelligence, objects, documents or processes whose compilation and use are liable to harm the nation’s defense or economy.”
In the same vein, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Algerian government to release Chitour and drop all charges against him.
“Said Chitour’s arrest on espionage charges appears to be an attempt to keep information about Algeria out of the international press,” CPJ said.
An intelligence source told the AFP that Chitour had been under surveillance for several months and was accused of passing secret documents to foreign diplomats.
Last January, Algeria held blogger Touati Marzoug in pretrial detention at Oued Ghir prison in Bejaia for posting a Skype interview with a person described as “Israeli diplomat.” He is facing up to 25 years in prison under article 71 of the penal code.
In a report entitled “Algeria, the Invisible Hand of Power over the Media,” RFS described the Algerian regime’s use of threat of pretrial detention to silence journalists and free media.
Stifling independent journalists is happening at a time Algeria sinks deep in the freedom of the press ranking established by RFS. The freedom of the press in Algeria thus went from bad to worse losing 5 places to take the 134th rank among the most authoritarian countries in the globe.
In its annual report 2016-17 on the state of human rights in the world, Amnesty International decried the prosecution in Algeria of peaceful critics, including human rights defenders, in unfair trials, and the forced closure of media outlets.
Last December 11, Mohamed Tamalt, a journalist and an outspoken critic of the Algerian regime, lost his life after a hunger strike while in custody.
Mehdi Benaissa, the chief executive of Algeria’s KBC news, and Ryad Hartouf, the producer of the channel’s current-affairs program, were given Six-month prison sentences on fabricated charges after they broadcast a political satire that displeased the government.