Silencing the scribes of Algeria

Silencing the scribes of Algeria
Feature: During the civil war in Algeria, 150 journalists were killed. Remembering their legacy, the French embassy in Algiers has organised a memorial, weeks after a massacre of journalists in Paris.
2 min read
02 February, 2015
150 journalists were killed during the Algerian civil war [AFP]

It was known as Algeria's "dark decade" - a civil war that pitted a myriad of Islamist forces against the central government.

And on Thursday, the French embassy in Algeria marked the anniversary of journalists killed in the violence.

As many as 120 Algerian journalists were murdered "during the dark years of the barbaric ideology", in the words of French ambassador Bernad Emié. The memorial retold the stories of some of those reporters.

"They are among the first journalists who have paid with their lives for their opposition to terrorism," the ambassador said.

Emié was joined by some of Algeria's most respected journalists, intellectuals and artists.

They remembered not only the fallen journalists but also artists who were murdered in cold blood, such as singer Matoub Lounes who was also shot dead by militants from the Armed Islamic Group.

     Silence is death, and you, if you talk, you die. And if you remain silent, you die. So, speak out and die.
- Tahar Djaout, murdered journalist

One of the first journalists shot during the war was Tahar Djaout, in May 1993.

His assassination shocked the country. Unlike other scribes, his writing was critical of both the government and the Islamists.

He is remembered by his statement on liberty: "Silence is death, and you, if you talk, you die. And if you remain silent, you die. So, speak out and die."

Djaout's murder marked the start a planned campaign of violence against journalists and members of the artistic community. Rabah Zenati was murdered, followed by Mustafa Abada, director of Algerian state television, and his colleague Smail Yefsah a few months later.

Respected intellectuals Youcef Sebti, Djillali Liabes, Mohamed Boukhobza were also slaughtered.

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Artists were not spared from the violence. Stage director Azzeddine Medjoubi, the poet Bakhti Benaouda and rai singer Cheb Hasni were all killed. It appeared to be a targeted campaign to purge Algeria of its thinkers - and to a certain extent it worked.

More than 150 journalists fled Algeria to Paris, London and Arab countries, while more than 1,000 others fled their homes and took up residence in guarded hotels, leaving their families behind.

Among the murdered writers for Arab and French-language media outlets, three percent were sign language interpreters.

Not many of those killed were even outwardly political. Some 45 percent of the murdered journalists never disclosed their political affiliations publically, six percent were Islamists, 18 percent were leftists, while 30 percent were liberals.

Ten years later, the Algerian media is still trying to recover from their loss.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.