Algeria continues to block news websites as coronavirus crackdown extends to free press

Algeria continues to block news websites as coronavirus crackdown extends to free press
The CPJ has criticised Algeria after it blocked three news websites, and called on the country to end its attack on free press.
2 min read
23 April, 2020
The government has pushed down free press [Getty]

Algerian authorities have blocked three privately owned news websites, in a move that rights groups have called an attack on free press amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month the government blocked three websites, Maghreb Emergent, Radiom and Interlignes, according to a report by the website and its founder, press freedom advocate Bouzid Ichalalene told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

On the same day, the Council of Ministers, headed by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune approved a bill amending the country’s penal code to criminalise breaking the government-imposed coronavirus lockdown rules.

The bill also criminalised spreading "false news" that harms national unity, according to state-owned news agency APS and Interlignes.

Penalties for convictions under the bill, which treats news reports, social media, or other media the same, entail prison terms of two to five years and fines of 100,000 to 500,000 Algerian dinars ($778 to $3,891) for those convicted, according to news reports.

"When Algerian authorities arbitrarily censor news media just because they don't like to be scrutinised, they show exactly why laws that equate reporting with a criminal act are more than likely to be abused and pose a grave threat to press freedom," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Programme Coordinator Sherif Mansour.

"We call on the administration of Abdelmadjid Tebboune to immediately unblock the news websites The Interlignes, Maghreb Emergent, and Radiom and set into motion legal reform so journalists cannot face criminal penalties for their work."

The websites that were blocked covered the recent Covid-19 pandemic in Algeria, as well as the anti-government protests that have been taking place in the country.

According to CPJ, the three websites are no longer accessible in Algeria without using a virtual private network (VPN).

Maghreb Emergent and Radion were blocked four days after Ihsane El-Kadi, the editor-in-chief of both websites, published an opinion piece criticising Tebboune’s first 100 days in office.

Algeria has declared 384 deaths and more than 2,700 confirmed cases, according to latest figures.

Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH), said authorities were targeting online media outlets because they are "more active" and "escape government control".

Salhi said the new draft law was "another turn of the screw against freedoms" in Algeria.

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