By Hannatu Sadiq
Amnesty International has reacted to a sentence passed by an Algerian court in Tamanrasset (southern Algeria) sending a journalist Rabah Karèche, to a year in prison.
Mr Rabah who has been in prison since mid-April, was charged and imprisoned on 19 April, after publishing an account of a protest by the Tuareg, the local Berber minority.
An experienced and respected professional with a long history in Tamanrasset, he had reported that the region’s historic inhabitants were denouncing the “expropriation of their land” during a new territorial division.
“The Liberté correspondent in Tamanrasset was sentenced to one year in prison, including eight months in prison and four suspended months. Rabah Karèche will spend another four months in prison,” said Liberté, a privately-owned newspaper, on its website.
The journalist was charged with “deliberately spreading false information likely to undermine public order”.
He was also accused of “creating an electronic account dedicated to the dissemination of information likely to provoke segregation and hatred in society” and of “undermining national security and unity”.
On 5 August, the prosecution had requested a three-year prison sentence and a heavy fine against him.
A reform of the criminal code adopted last year now criminalizes the dissemination of “false information” that “undermines public order”.
The new law, which has been criticized by press freedom activists, provides for one to three years’ imprisonment for those responsible, and twice that for repeat offenders.
The Tuareg populations of Algeria’s far south regularly denounce their economic and social marginalization within a highly centralized state.
Mr. Karèche’s detention sparked an uproar among his colleagues in Algeria and abroad, and anger among lawyers after Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune described the journalist as an “arsonist” in an interview with the French weekly Le Point.
His lawyers had denounced “a violation of the presumption of innocence” and an “attempt to influence justice”.
During the pleadings, the defense had called for all charges to be dropped and for the journalist to be released.
In a statement, Amnesty International described the conviction as “another blow to press freedom in Algeria”.
“No journalist should be imprisoned simply for doing his job,” Amnesty said, adding that “Rabah Karèche must be released immediately and his unjust conviction and sentence must be overturned.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “Mr Kareche’s only crime was to do his job as a reporter. The authorities should not force him to spend even one day in prison for his work.
CPJ also called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of Liberté’s correspondent, urging the authorities to let journalists in Algeria “cover news without fear of imprisonment.
Algeria is ranked 146th (out of 180) in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom index for 2021, the same as in 2020. But the country has fallen 27 places since 2015.