Algerian journalist jailed on appeal over protest coverage


Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni was jailed for two years on appeal on Tuesday, amid a crackdown on dissent following a year of anti-government demonstrations.

Drareni, 40, was sentenced in August to three years in jail for his coverage of the mass protest movement that toppled the North African country's longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year.

Although Drareni's sentence was reduced by a year, his lawyers, colleagues and relatives who had been hoping for a lenient judgement – if not acquittal – said they were shocked by the verdict.

The journalist's brother, Chekib Drareni, said in a tweet that he was "disgusted, shocked and disappointed by the court's decision, which once again reinforces injustice in Algeria".

Lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi said that Drareni's defence team would appeal to the supreme court.

Drareni, editor of the Casbah Tribune news site and correspondent for French-language TV5 Monde as well as press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has been in custody since March. He was found guilty of "inciting an unarmed gathering" and "endangering national unity".

The Minister of Communication Ammar Belhimer also criticised the journalist for working without ever having a professional press card, against a background of allegations of being in the service of "foreign embassies".

The severity of the sentence triggered the indignation and anger of journalists who came to support Drareni in court. RSF head Christophe Deloire said: "We are outraged by the blind stubbornness of the Algerian judges who have just condemned (Drareni) to two years in prison." "Khaled's detention proves the regime locks itself into a logic of absurd, unfair and violent repression," he tweeted.

Drareni was tried along with Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, two prominent activists in the Hirak protest movement. Benlarbi and Hamitouche faced the same charges but were sentenced to four months in prison and released on time served. The prosecutor had originally called for a four-year prison sentence for all three defendants.

Drareni has denied all charges against him. "I am a journalist, not a criminal. I only did my job," he said. (AFP)

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