Algerian Journalist Sentenced to Three Years in Prison

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Khaled Drareni was charged after covering a pro-deomcracy protest in March. Journalism groups have condemned the detention and have demanded his release.

Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni received a three-year prison sentence on Monday on charges of inciting unlawful protests and attacking national unity.

Drareni denied the charges when he appeared on trial via video-conference due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I just did my job as an independent journalist," said Drareni, according to a statement from press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Drareni also works for RSF.

Drareni was the editor of the Casbah Tribune news site, as well as a correspondent for French television station TV5Monde. He was arrested on March 29 on charges of "inciting an unarmed gathering" and "endangering national unity" after he covered the "Hirak" protest movement.

The protests broke out in February 2019 to reject former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to seek a fifth term in power, and demand the departure of the ruling elite.

His lawyer, Nouredine Benissad, told news agency AFP: "It's a very heavy verdict for Khaled Drareni. We are surprised." Drareni will also pay a fine of 50,000 dinar ($392, €333).

Benissad is also the president of the Algerian League for Human Rights.

Two other activists were sentenced to two years each, according to Benissad.

Journalism groups furious

RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire tweeted "this is clearly a judicial persecution against a journalist who is the honor of his country. Justice under orders has just made Khaled Drareni a symbol that will arouse global indignation and mobilization."

The prosecutor was originally seeking a four-year sentence and a 100,000 dinar fine. RSF stated last week, as the trial began, that if that punishment were upheld, "it would confirm that the Algerian state has turned its back on the ideals of the country's independence."

The organization said there was a support committee for Drareni that was set up last month.

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), a US-based press freedom group, denounced the charges against Drareni.

"Algerian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Khlaed Drareni, especially as there is no evidence he did anything except his job as a journalist," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour last week.

"Drareni's detention and vague charges make a mockery of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's reform pledges and put the country back on an ugly path toward muzzling dissent."

Journalists and activists protested outside the courthouse on Monday, chanting "Free Drareni."

(AFP, Reuters)

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