UN human rights experts* today condemned the prison sentence handed down on appeal to an Algerian journalist and human rights defender, Khaled Drareni who has become a symbol of press freedom in the North African country. They called on Algerian authorities to overturn the sentence and release Drareni from prison.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this two-year prison sentence imposed on a journalist who was simply doing his job, and call on the Algerian authorities to reverse it and set Mr. Drareni free," the experts said.
Drareni, 40, had been sentenced in August to three years in prison for filming police attacking demonstrators in Algiers on charges officially called inciting an illegal assembly and endangering national unity. Although reduced two-year sentence was confirmed yesterday (15 September), "it is still grossly inappropriate because the charges brought against him are a blatant violation of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and of association," the experts said.
The demonstration he filmed was part of the year-long Hirak protest movement that began in February 2019 and continued for more than a year, even after achieving its original goal - removal of long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Protests moved from the streets to online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The human rights experts also criticised legal and judicial measures aimed at curbing press freedom in Algeria, and called for the release of all political activists and human rights defenders.
"We are very alarmed at the extent of crackdown on dissent in Algeria," the experts said. "Civil society organisations, human rights defenders and journalists are being increasingly scrutinized and harassed for carrying out their legitimate work."
"Under international law, any person who monitors an assembly must be protected by the State, whether it is a journalist, a member of national human rights institution or an ordinary citizen," the experts said. "It is unacceptable to arrest anyone - especially a journalist - for simply disseminating a video that shows security forces using violence against demonstrators."
They said Algerian authorities are increasingly using national security laws to prosecute people who exercise their rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly and association.
The experts also expressed concern about restrictive laws, including a draft (N°20-06 of April 2020) now before Parliament, that would criminalise dissemination of false news and financing of any association which might undermine the state or the fundamental interests of Algeria.
"If adopted, this law would pave the way for more arrests and detention of dissidents, such as demonstrators and supporters of the Hirak Movement," the experts said.
"We strongly urge the government to halt the arrest and detention of political activists, lawyers, journalists, and human rights defenders, as well as any person who expresses dissent or criticism of the government," the experts said. "Drareni, and all the others currently in prison, or awaiting trial simply for doing their job and defending human rights must be immediately released and protected."
* The experts: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, Ms Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi;
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.