On 12 August, Rabah Karèche, a Tamanrasset-based correspondent for the newspaper Liberté, was sentenced to eight months in prison and four months on parole, plus a fine of 20,000 Algerian dinars (about 145 dollars). His appeal will be heard on 4 October. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
How is it that, in Algeria today, a newspaper correspondent can find himself in prison convicted of nothing more than having faithfully reported the anger of the Algerian Tuareg living in the south? One can but wonder whether it is simply an attempt to silence the pen of a journalist who is endeavouring to reach right into the heart of the country’s wounds… seeking to heal the ills of those who are marginalized because, living so far removed from the centre, they cannot always be heard.
On closer inspection, Karèche’s conviction can be seen to be linked to his work. The authorities accused him of covering a demonstration in the village of Tazrouk, near Tamanrasset, that was protesting at the territorial division of Algeria into 58 wilayas. This is the second time since President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s election that a journalist has found themselves behind bars for what they have written, after freelance journalist Khaled Drareni was sentenced on appeal to two years in prison in September 2020 but then provisionally released last February.
Karèche was accused of and then convicted on spurious charges of “undermining national unity”, “inciting hatred in society” and “spreading false information”.
Who would believe that a journalist, by simply doing his job and reporting facts and information of public interest for a major national daily newspaper, could be accused of such crimes? Was reference to the Criminal Code and Law 20-05 on preventing and combatting discrimination and hate speech really justifiable? Amnesty International’s response is that it was not and that there is no basis for his detention.
Rabah Karèche had been suffering harassment for several months, with frequent police interrogations concerning his work and sources. The journalist had the courage to resist, not to give up or abandon either the cause of journalism or his beliefs.
The authorities’ harassment of this journalist resulted in his pre-trial detention and then sentencing last August to one year in prison, of which eight months are firm.
The way his trial was conducted (in the presence of renowned journalists and lawyers) was a shock to many. The judge was quite happy, for example, to consider passages from Karèche’s articles as evidence, including the expression “digging up their battle axes”, which was translated literally into Arabic to serve as the basis for the charge of “undermining national unity”.
It is as if a journalist who offers an analysis of the situation, based on his in-depth knowledge of the subject, his experience and his hard work, is a criminal. This is an absurd accusation especially given we know that Karèche, who has written more than 70 articles this year, regularly wrote about what was happening in Tamanrasset, in particular the educational and developmental problems this region suffers from. It is precisely what he has been doing since he moved to the city 10 years ago.
The sentence imposed on Rabah Karèche is unjust. With his imprisonment, Tamanrasset has been deprived of one of its most brilliant journalists, a wife has been deprived of her husband and his two children of their father.
This iniquitous verdict must be overturned and Karèche released. The use of the Criminal Code to criminalize journalism must also stop.
This would be in line with Article 54 of the Constitution, which prohibits imprisonment for press offences, as well as with international conventions ratified by Algeria.