6 January 2004
Two journalists receive two-month suspended jail sentences
(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has expressed anger over the two-month suspended prison sentences handed down to two journalists by the Algiers Correctional Court on 31 December 2003.
Youssef Rezzoug and Fatma Zohra Khalfi, editor-in-chief of the daily "Le Matin" and a journalist with the news agency Algérie Presse Service, respectively, were earlier charged with "illegal assembly and threatening public order". The journalists were sentenced in connection with a protest assembly they attended in support of two detained journalists. In addition to the suspended sentences, Rezzoug and Khalfi were each fined 2,000 dinars (approx. US$28; 22 euros).
"Until the very twilight of the year, 2003 was marked by a deteriorating press freedom situation in Algeria. The harassment campaign against the independent press - begun by the government this past summer against a pre-election background - has continued with disastrous results," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard noted. "Now journalists do not even have the right to demonstrate their solidarity with colleagues," he added.
The case goes back to 8 September, when journalists from several newspapers, political campaigners and human rights activists gathered outside the Algiers police station where Ali Dilem and Mohammed Benchicou, a cartoonist with the French-language daily "Liberté" and managing editor of the French-language daily "Le Matin", respectively, were being held under a committal order (see IFEX alerts of 12, 10 and 9 September 2003). Rezzoug and his wife, as well as Khalfi and Yacine Téguia, an activist with the Social and Democratic Movement (Mouvement démocratique et social, MDS), were arrested.
Their lawyers, who condemned the political character of their 31 December trial, argued that Rezzoug and Khalfi should be acquitted since the criminal code does not bar solidarity actions. Their lawyers also pointed out that assembly is not forbidden under the criminal code.