Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today's court decision prohibiting the sale of shares in El Khabar, an Arabic-language media group, to Ness Prod, a company owned by Cevital, Algeria's biggest privately-owned industrial conglomerate. At the same time, RSF reiterates its call for the immediate release of Mehdi Benaissa and Riadh Hartouf, two executives with KBC, a TV channel that is part of the El Khabar group.
Today's decision voiding El Khabar's sale of a majority stake to Ness Prod was handed down by an administrative court based in the Algiers district of Bir Mourad Rais. It confirmed the provisional ruling that the same court issued several weeks ago.
Under today's ruling, a copy of which has yet to be received by El Khabar's legal representatives, El Khabar will have to pay all legal costs. El Khabar's lawyers told RSF that they will file an appeal with the Council of State, Algeria's highest court.
"Another blow has been dealt to El Khabar's journalists and all of Algeria's media," said Yasmine Kacha, the head of RSF's North Africa desk. "We hope that El Khabar will be able to find the necessary strength to confront this drastic judicial decision, which threatens the group's independence and economic future."
RSF has repeatedly voiced support for El Khabar in recent weeks, as the media group has been subjected to repeated harassment by the authorities. When Benaissa and Hartouf were arrested on 24 June for allegedly recording a TV programme without proper permits, RSF reacted quickly with a call for their immediate release.
A court today rejected a request by El Khabar's lawyers for their release. They are scheduled to be tried on 18 July.
Algeria is ranked 129th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index.