New York — Algerian authorities should immediately release independent journalist and fixer Said Chitour and should drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Prosecutors charged Chitour--who has worked as a fixer and a journalist for the BBC, France 24, and the Washington Post, among others--with espionage for "leaking classified documents" to foreign diplomats, according to news reports. Police arrested him at Algiers International Airport on June 5 as he returned from Spain, according to media reports, but his arrest was not made public until after July 3, when diplomats from an unspecified country told journalists about it at a dinner organized by the U.S. Embassy in Algiers, according to the same media reports.
Mohand Tahar, Chitour's brother, told journalists that the Chitour denied the charges against him, and that Algerian security forces had summoned Chitour at least twice before and questioned him about his work with foreign journalists. Chitour knew that he "was on the [authorities'] radar," Tahar told journalists.
Neither Algerian Interior Ministry press officials nor diplomats at the Algerian Embassy to the United States immediately responded to CPJ's emails and phone calls requesting comment.
"Said Chitour's arrest on espionage charges appears to be an attempt to keep information about Algeria out of the international press," CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said. "We call on Algerian authorities to release Chitour, drop all charges against him, and to cease harassing and threatening journalists for their work."
Chitour's lawyer, Khaled Bourayou, told the Algerian news website Tout sur l'Algérie that Chitour did not leak any documents to foreign officials, and in any case did not have access to the kind of documents described in the relevant Algerian legislation. Bourayou did not respond to CPJ's repeated requests for further information.
Chitour is jailed in Algiers' El-Harrach Prison, pending trial before the Dar El Beida Court, media reports said. The media reports did not say whether a date had been set for his trial.
In January, Algerian authorities arrested Marzoug Touati, an editor for the news website Al-Hogra, and held him in administrative detention on charges of "talking to the agents of a foreign power with the intention of causing harm to Algeria's army, diplomatic relations, and financial interests," according to media reports.