Responding to the news that blogger Merzoug Touati was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined 50,000 Algerian dinar (approximately USD $430) for online posts, Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa Regional Director at Amnesty International, said:
“It is utterly shocking that the Algerian authorities have imposed such a heavy sentence on someone solely for expressing his peaceful opinion online.
“Merzoug Touati’s arrest, trial and sentence is further proof that freedom of expression remains under threat in Algeria, where the authorities continue to use a range of repressive laws to quell dissent.
“As a citizen-journalist, Merzoug Touati has every right to document the world around him and the country he lives in.
“Algerian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Touati, a prisoner of conscience imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing his views on Facebook and YouTube.”
It is utterly shocking that the Algerian authorities have imposed such a heavy sentence on someone solely for expressing his peaceful opinion onlineHeba Morayef
Merzoug Touati was convicted on charges relating to a Facebook post and YouTube video that authorities claim encouraged civil unrest. He has been in detention since January 2017 and is expected to appeal his sentence in the weeks ahead.
The three charges were “incitement to non-armed gathering”, “foreign intelligence aiming at harming diplomatic ties”, and “incitement to gatherings and sit-ins in public spaces”. A charge of “incitement to take up arms against the authority of the state”, which could have carried a death sentence, was dropped.
Amnesty International reviewed the court documents, which listed as “evidence” the posts published by Merzoug Touati before his Facebook account and website were deleted, and found that there was no incitement to violence or advocacy of hatred. Amnesty International therefore considers Merzoug Touati a prisoner of conscience held solely for expressing his peaceful opinions.
Merzoug Touati has been in detention since 22 January 2017 and is currently held in El Khemis prison in the northern city of Béjaïa. He has conducted at least three hunger strikes to protest against his extended detention.
Merzoug Touati is a university graduate who was unemployed at his time of arrest. He was not affiliated to any political party or association. In 2015, he began to run a Facebook page and a blog called alhogra.com, since deleted, writing mostly about political and human rights developments in Algeria.
During his interrogation, Merzoug Touati told the investigative judge that the interviews he had conducted with diplomats, human rights defenders and activists from different religious and political backgrounds were solely for documentation purposes for his online articles.
Police arrested Merzoug Touati on 18 January 2017 after he published a post on Facebook and a video interview on his YouTube channel.
In the first post on 2 January 2017 he called for Béjaïa residents to protest against a new Finance Law. In the second post on YouTube on 8 January 2017, Merzoug Touati interviewed an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson who disputed accusations by the Algerian authorities that the Israeli authorities were involved in protests in Algeria.