With less than four weeks to go to parliamentary elections in Algeria, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is extremely concerned about the systematic and violent methods now being used by the authorities to prevent journalists from covering the regular "Hirak" anti-government protests, held above all on Fridays.
Many reporters were subjected to physical violence by police trying to keep them at a distance from the latest demonstrations on 14 May, whose participants are calling for more freedom and oppose holding parliamentary elections on 12 June. And many journalists were also arrested without any grounds.
Around 15 reporters were arrested while covering the protest in Algiers. They included three - RadioM's Lynda Abbou, freelance photographer Sid Ahmed Belouchrani (aka Sid Walinés) and the Casbah Tribune's Khaled Drareni - who were briefly detained several times in the course of the day before finally being arrested and held for eight hours without any explanation.
Several reporters and photographers, including Agence France-Presse photographer Riad Kramdi, Radio M's Wided Laouedj, the Casbah Tribune's Anis Chelouche and Farida Tayeb Cherrad of TariqNews, were also held for several hours after being arrested to prevent them covering the use of violence to disperse the protesters.
Beaten by riot police
Djaafer Kheloufi, a reporter for the Twala news website, was beaten by riot police for trying to intervene when five policemen used force to arrest Kenza Khattou, a young woman who hosts the politics programmes on Radio M. Khattou was still in police custody yesterday had not been taken before a prosecutor. She bore the marks of blows on her body and her glasses were broken. When she refused to sign a statement (which she could not read without her glasses), she was forced to put her fingerprints on it.
The same determination to prevent media coverage was also visible earlier last week. The Casbah Tribune's Khaled Drareni, freelance photographer Hakim Hammiche, El Watan photographer Sami Kharoum, El Khabar's Mustapha Bastami and Feriel Bouaziz of Interlignes were arrested without any grounds on 11 May and were held for five hours at the Casbah police station. The phones and documents were confiscated and were returned only when they were released.
"The intimidation and harassment of Algerian journalists in the course of their reporting is unacceptable," said Souhaieb Khayati, the head of RSF's North Africa desk. "They are doing their job, which is to publish photos, videos and accounts. We call on the Algerian authorities to immediately cease this brutal crackdown, which is a complete contradiction of Algeria's constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
This wave of arrests of journalists has come as the authorities step up their attempts to suppress the Hirak protests. The government announced on 9 May that all demonstrations are henceforth banned unless a permit is obtained in advance, and that permits will only be issued to identified organisers who specify the march's itinerary and the times it will start and end - conditions that the Hirak protests cannot satisfy because they have no leaders and routes are often changed to avoid police cordons.
Algeria has fallen 27 places in RSF's World Press Freedom Index since 2015 and is now ranked 146th out of 180 countries.