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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Press freedom advocates demand international campaign to free jailed Algerian journalist

Khaled Drareni's lawyer Zoubia Assoul (C) at Wednesday's press conference [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 August, 2020

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"We are launching an appeal to citizens, to the elites, to all journalists, wherever they may be, inside or outside the country," said the lawyer of jailed journalist Khaled Drareni
Supporters of jailed Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni launched an appeal on Wednesday for international pressure to secure the release of someone who has become a symbol of press freedom in the North African nation.

"We are launching an appeal to citizens, to the elites, to all journalists, wherever they may be, inside or outside the country," Drareni's lawyer Zoubida Assoul told a press conference in Algiers.

"We must mobilise to block these practices we see from those in power, who say one thing and practice the opposite," added Assoul, who is also the head of the small opposition Union for Change and Progress party.

Drareni, 40, editor of the Casbah Tribune news site and correspondent for French-language channel TV5 Monde, was sentenced on Monday to three years in jail for "inciting an unarmed gathering" and "endangering national unity" after covering demonstrations by the Hirak protest movement.

He has been in detention since March.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, for which Drareni also works, has condemned the sentence as "arbitrary, absurd and violent".

Drareni's two co-accused in the trial, Hirak protesters Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, were sentenced to two years' jail each.

Defence lawyers have said they plan to appeal the sentences.

The Hirak protests last year swept ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power but continued afterwards, demanding the ouster of the entire state apparatus, reviled by many Algerians as inept and corrupt.

Weekly protests rocked Algeria for more than a year and only came to a halt in March due to the coronavirus crisis.

Fethi Ghares, coordinator for the Democratic and Social Movement party, told the same press conference on Wednesday that "repression, which is a sign of weakness," was the only tool left for the Algerian authorities.

Also on Wednesday, 30 NGOs expressed solidarity with the jailed journalist and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Several protests are planned outside Algeria in the coming days, including in New York and Geneva.

The Algerian justice system has in recent months increased the court cases and convictions against alleged Hirak militants, opposition politicians, journalists and bloggers.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Algeria 146 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than the previous year. 

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