New York — Algerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Belkacem Haouam and cease detaining journalists for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On Thursday, September 8, authorities in Algiers, the capital, arrested Haouam, a reporter for the local independent daily newspaper Echorouk, after he responded to a summons for questioning, according to news reports and local journalist and press freedom advocate Mustapha Bendjama, who is familiar with the case and spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Haouam's summons concerned an article he published Tuesday about the country's Ministry of Commerce allegedly stopping the export of local dates due to their high levels of pesticides, according to those reports. When he appeared at the Algiers Hussein Dey Court, a judge ordered him to be held in pretrial detention, and transferred him to Al-Harach prison, outside the capital, according to those reports and Bendjama.
As of Friday, no official charges had been disclosed in his case, according to local journalist and press freedom advocate Khaled Drareni, who also spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
"Algerian authorities' arrest of journalist Belkacem Haouam over his coverage of trade issues shows the government's dedication to cracking down on the free press," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Authorities must release Haouam immediately and unconditionally, and ensure that members of the press can work freely and without fear of detention."
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Commerce published a statement on its official Facebook page denying the claims Haouam made in his article, which is no longer available on Echorouk's website. In that statement, the ministry said it would take legal action against the journalist.
CPJ emailed the Algerian Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Commerce for comment but did not receive any response.
As of December 1, 2021, there were at least two journalists behind bars in Algeria, according to CPJ's annual prison census.