Algeria: Jailed journalist must be freed, and his media outlets allowed to reopen

Algerian authorities have arbitrarily renewed the pretrial detention of prominent journalist Ihsane El Kadi on 15 January without the presence of his defence team, Amnesty International said today. El Kadi, who is accused of trumped-up state security related offences, must be released immediately and his two media outlets, sealed on 24 December, should be allowed to reopen.

On 15 January, a judge in the Court of Sidi M’hamed in Algiers renewed the decision to hold him in pre-trial detention. No lawyers from his defence team were present at that time to challenge the lawfulness of El Kadi’s imprisonment as the Court did not inform them that the appeal hearing, initially scheduled for 18 January, was moved to an earlier date.

“El Kadi’s unjustified detention by the Algerian authorities is a grave injustice compounded by the violation of his fair trial rights. It is yet another example of their ruthless campaign to silence voices of dissent through arbitrary detention and the closure of media outlets,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The fact that El Kadi’s pre-trial detention has been renewed without the presence of his defence team, and that the court did not inform them of the change in hearing date, is a blatant disregard for his right to a fair trial. The authorities must release him immediately and allow the reopening of his outlets without censorship of critical content.”

Plainclothes security officials arrested El Kadi shortly after midnight on 24 December at his home in Zemmouri, a coastal town 40 km east of Algiers, and later that day led him in handcuffs to the offices of his online media outlets Radio M and Maghreb Emergent. They ordered the staff to leave, seized computers and other materials and sealed the doors.

El Kadi’s unjustified detention by the Algerian authorities is a grave injustice compounded by the violation of his fair trial rights.

Amna Guellali, Amnesty International

A member of Ihsane El Kadi’s family, who asked to remain anonymous, told Amnesty International that security officers did not produce a warrant before the arrest, or inform him of the allegations on which he was being arrested. Security officers then held Ihsane El Kadi for five days, and he was interrogated about his publications in the Antar barracks in Algiers, which are under the supervision of the General Directorate of Interior Security.

On 29 December, an investigative judge at the first instance Tribunal of Sidi M’hamed in Algiers ordered the detention of Ihsane El Kadi at El Harrach prison.  A prosecutor charged him with several offences including “receiving funds, a donation or a benefit that could harm the security of the State”, “receiving foreign funds for political propaganda”, and “distributing, selling, exposing for propaganda, leaflets, newsletters and flyers with the aim of harming the national interest” under articles 95 bis, 95 and 96 of the Penal Code, respectively.

The judge also accused the journalist based on Ordinance 77-3 dating back to 1977, which requires prior authorization from the governor or the Minister of Interior for fundraising initiatives. 

A few days before his arrest Ihsane El Kadi published an analysis of the Algerian political situation, outlining the role of the Algerian army in presidential elections.

Ihsane El Kadi was convicted on 25 December to a yet to be applied sentence of six months in jail and a fine for “publishing false information” related to an article published on 23 March 2021 defending the role in the Hirak of unregistered political group Rachad, whom the authorities classified as terrorist. On several occasions, law enforcement officials have summoned Ihsane El Kadi to the Antar facility to interrogate him about his work. 

The prosecution of El Kadi comes on the heels of other cases of harassment, intimidation, and unlawful imprisonment of journalists in Algeria. Over the past two years, authorities arrested, summoned or convicted at least 11 other journalists.

“It is shocking and shameful to see the Algerian authorities penalizing press freedom and the right to freedom of expression under the pretext of national security. Ihsane El Kadi and all journalists should be able to report on matters related to the state freely, even when it is critical of those in power,” said Amna Guellali.