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Supporters demand jailed Algerian journalist be freed

By AFP - Aug 11,2020 - Last updated at Aug 11,2020

ALGIERS — Supporters of jailed Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni on Tuesday demanded his release in an online petition calling his three-year jail term "the heaviest" handed down to a reporter since independence.

The case is seen as a test of press freedom in the north African nation.

Over 1,000 people had signed the petition, including lawyers, academics and fellow journalists, as well as figures such as Louisette Ighilahriz, a liberation fighter of Algeria's war of independence.

"Khaled Drareni's place is not in prison," the petition read. "We, the signatories of this petition, demand his immediate release."

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

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

Kamel Amarni, who heads the national union of journalists, called the sentence a "nightmare".

He said it set "a serious precedent... which does not bode well as to the real intentions of the government with regard to freedom of expression".

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

Defence lawyers 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 novel coronavirus crisis.

RSF ranked Algeria 146 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2019.


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