Press watchdog accused of bid to ‘destabilise’ Algeria

ALGIERS (AFP) – Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune accused press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) of working to “destabilise” the country with its campaign against the jailing of its Algiers correspondent Khaled Drareni.

Rights groups “targetted” Algeria “to sap the stability of the country”, he said in a meeting with local media representatives on Sunday.

“States do not attack us head-on but put non-governmental organisations in charge of the task,” said the president, who singled out the France-based RSF for criticism.

Drareni, Casbah Tribune news website editor and correspondent for French-language TV5 Monde as well as RSF, was on September 15 handed a two-year jail sentence. The 40-year-old was convicted over his coverage of the mass protest movement that toppled Algeria’s longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year.

He was found guilty of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “endangering national unity”, a ruling that drew condemnation at home and abroad.

Tebboune insisted “nobody is incarcerated (in Algeria) for an article they have written”.

“We forbid insults and attacks on issues related to state security,” the successor to Bouteflika said, without elaborating.

Tebboune said Drareni, whose name he avoided using in the encounter, had been sentenced for his “involvement in an affair that has nothing to do with the press”.

The journalist, according to Communications Minister Ammar Belhimer, had been working without a professional press card and was allegedly in the pay of “foreign embassies”.

After the verdict, RSF head Christophe Deloire said, “We are outraged by the blind stubbornness of the Algerian judges who just condemned (Drareni).

“Khaled’s detention proves the regime locks itself into a logic of absurd, unfair and violent repression,” he tweeted.

Algeria ranked 146 out of 180 countries in the RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.