Trial of Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni commences as press freedoms remain under siege

Trial of Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni commences as press freedoms remain under siege
The trial of Trial of Algerian journalist and press freedom advocate Khaled Drareni begins in Algiers today.
3 min read
Khaled Drareni is standing trial, and the whole country is watching [Getty]

The trial began Monday of Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni, who has become a figurehead of press freedom in the North African country.

Khaled Drareni, 40, who ran the Casbah Tribune website and was a correspondent for French-language television channel TV5Monde, was arrested in March while covering an anti-government protest.

He is accused of "inciting an unarmed gathering" and undermining the nation's "territorial integrity", charges he denies.

He faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who Drareni also works for, has called for his immediate release and for the charges to be dropped.

Drareni appeared on Monday in Algiers by video-link from prison, an AFP journalist in the courtroom said.

Several Algerian and international human rights and media freedom groups have urged the government to release Drareni and end the harassment of independent media.

Weekly protests by the "Hirak" movement rocked Algeria for more than a year, and only came to a halt in March due to the coronavirus crisis.

Drareni is being tried alongside two members of the protest movement, Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche.

The two men, who unlike Drareni were released on bail in July, were present in court.

Benlarbi said he was hopeful that Drareni would also be bailed.

"The lawyers will demand his release from prison and the postponement of the trial until September," Benlarbi told AFP.

Arrests of journalists in Algeria have increased in recent months. Algeria ranks 146th on RSF's 180-country World Press Freedom Index.

Rights groups calls for Drareni’s release

Amnesty International is among a number of organisations calling for the immediate release of Drareni, as well as the end to "targeted harassment of independent media".

"The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Khaled and end the outrageous prosecution of him.

"He is being punished simply for daring to do his journalistic work independently and bravely. Journalism should never be a punishable crime," said Heba Morayef, the MENA Regional Director for Amnesty International.

"At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, World Press Freedom Day should stand as a stark reminder to the authorities that journalism, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly must be respected at all times."

Drareni was arrested on 7 March while covering a protest on the Hirak movement. He was released on 10 March and placed under judicial supervision, but the police re-arrested him on 27 March.

Prosecutors charged him with "incitement to unarmed gathering" and "harming the integrity of the national territory" which could lead to ten years in prison simply for his reporting as a journalist covering Hirak protests.

Drareni has done significant reporting on the Hirak protests and has exposed the government's crackdown on freedom of speech and assembly in Algeria through his videos and photos posted online.

During his opening statements in court, he talked about the importance of journalism, and defended his actions as simply "doing my job…as an impartial journalist".

He said: "I practiced my work as a freelance and free journalist, I covered the marches of the movement, including the pro-holiday protests, when I give the reader the information and that is a constitutional right of the citizen, when I do not share the hatred and the truth, I keep the unity Patriotism .. I am an impartial journalist who only does my job."

When challenged by the judge about why he was present at the protests on 7 March, he explained:

"I live on Didouche Street, I heard the voices of the demonstrators and I went down to cover the demonstrations, I did not call for incitement, but I did my job."

At the end, the judge informed Drareni that he could sit down, to which he replied: "I remain standing, I am still standing".

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay connected