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Algerian journalist sentenced to two years in prison on appeal

Khaled Drareni had been arrested in March while covering anti-corruption protests in Algiers
The prosecutor's office had requested four years in prison and 50,000 dinars' worth of fines against the three defendants (Ryad Kramdi/AFP)

Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni, 40, has been sentenced to two years in prison on appeal, the National Committee for the Release of Detainees announced on Tuesday.

Drareni, 40, had been arrested on 29 March this year while covering anti-corruption protests in Algiers, which began in February 2019. The journalist had been detained and cautioned twice last year for covering the demonstrations and instructed to stop and to be less critical of the head of the armed forces.

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On 10 August, Drareni - who set up news website Casbah Tribune and covered Algeria's protests for France's TV5 Monde - was sentenced to three years in prison for “endangering the integrity of the national territory” for two social media posts he wrote.

The prosecution also denounced how, three days before the presidential election on 12 December 2019, Drareni had shared on Facebook a statement by the Alternative Democratic movement calling for a general strike and election boycott, claiming that Drareni had supported the boycott. Drareni argued that he had shared the post only to relay newsworthy information.

His sentence was reduced to two years on appeal.

"We are all in danger. Journalism is in danger, [The practice of] law is in danger, rights are in danger, all Algerians are in danger," lawyer Abdelghani Badi commented after the sentencing.

Drareni’s co-defendants, activists Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, were each sentenced to four months in prison and given a one-year suspended prison sentence respectively. 

The prosecutor's office had requested four years in prison and fines worth 50,000 dinars ($389) for the three defendants. 

Translation: Dismay at the Algiers court after journalist Khaled Drareni's conviction on appeal to two years in prison.

In January, Drareni had been arrested and taken to an army barracks, where he was accused of publishing articles which were “subversive, false and tendentious” and was given a final warning before his case would be transferred to the judicial system. 

On Monday, a number of journalists, as part of the National Khaled Drareni Support Committee, which included the son of Algerian independence hero Maurice Audin, organised a rally in support of their colleague at the Tahar-Djaout press house in Algiers, where they had been mobilising for the last three weeks.

In the six months since Drareni’s incarceration, corporations of journalists, lawyers and civil society organisations had increased their calls demanding his release. On 3 May, on World Press Freedom Day, 29 journalists from around the world created video messages for Drareni's release.

Last week, French journalists held a rally in front of the Algerian embassy in Paris calling for the release of the Algerian journalist. 

Translation: "Free Khaled Drareni": French television personalities stand up for the Algerian journalist

On the same day, dozens of Tunisian journalists gathered in front of their union's headquarters in Tunis to make the same demands. Drareni's brother, Chekib, had also been using his social media platforms from the United States to demand his brother's release and had held protests outside the Algerian embassy in Washington DC.

Reporters Without Border ranked Algeria 146th out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2019 and 27 places lower than in 2015.