27 August 2003
"Le Matin" newspaper harassed by police
(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has expressed concern about the ongoing police harassment of the daily newspaper "Le Matin" and its managing editor, Mohammed Benchicou.
On 25 August 2003, Benchicou told the organisation that police had made no written record of their search of his person at Algiers airport on 23 August. He said he had been summoned by detectives and feared he would be arrested within the next few days.
The authorities intend to shut down "Le Matin", Benchicou said, and police have ordered the paper's bank manager not to issue a certified cheque to the publication. The cheque is needed to pay off its last debts to the state printing firm. Benchicou said three-quarters of the debt had already been paid.
Very few Algerian newspapers disclose their annual accounts or daily print-run figures. Their failure to comply with the law in this way is not formally punished but instead left in limbo by the authorities as a means to intimidate, censor and blackmail them. The state printers are also deliberately lax and allow debts to build up over a long period, finally demanding repayment as a means of preventing certain papers from publishing.
In addition to this arbitrary and legally unclear situation, the poisonous climate surrounding the 2004 presidential election campaign, which has started very early, also threatens press freedom.
Several Algerian newspapers have closed down since the state printers gave six publications an ultimatum to settle their major debts. "Liberté" and "El-Khabar" paid their debts and continue to be printed, but "Le Matin", "Le Soir d'Algérie", "L'Expression" and "Er-Raï" have not appeared since 18 August.