Reporters without Borders warns that independent journalist Khaled Drareni is being persecuted for his opinions amid scant press freedom in Algeria.
By Rina Bassist
Algeria's state prosecutor is demanding four years of prison for independent journalist Khaled Drareni. Drareni was arrested in the capital Algiers last March and has been kept in detention ever since. His trial opened on Aug. 3 and sentencing is expected in a week. Two activists are standing trial together with Drareni. Apart from imprisonment, the three also face heavy fines and being stripped of their civic rights.
Drareni, 40, has been working over the past few years for several media outlets, including the French TV Channel TV5 Monde. He has also run the local Sabah Tribune and served as correspondent for the global press freedom group Reporters Without Borders. He was very active on Twitter, with 146,00 followers. For the last year and a half he has been focusing on the demonstrations that led to the toppling of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2019 and the demonstrations that followed against the replacing regime. The marches and demonstrations, organized by the Hirak movement, only came to a halt in March due to the coronavirus crisis.
The saga of his arrest started on March 7 this year. Drareni and two others — Slimane Hamitouche and Samir Benlarbi — were detained by the police while participating at a demonstration in Algiers. Three days later they were brought before the state prosecutor. Drareni was placed under judicial review, while a detention warrant was issued for his two colleagues.
On March 25, a judge in Algiers charged him with "inciting an unarmed gathering" and undermining the nation's "territorial integrity," both charges he denied. According to people close to him, Drareni was aware of the risks, but decided not to flee. His last tweet dates from that day: "The Algiers Chambers confirms the detention warrants submitted against Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, and the judicial review submitted against me," Drareni wrote in Arabic and in French.
On March 27, police knocked on his door and took him away. He was held in a police station for two nights before being brought in front of a judge. The court ordered him transferred to a state prison, where he stayed until the opening of his trial yesterday.
Reporters without Borders says the accusations are fabricated. The group has been campaigning since March for the charges to be dropped and for Drareni to be released. In a tweet today, the group stated that Drareni has denied the accusations leveled against him and insists that he was merely doing his job and fulfilling his mission as an independent journalist.
A source in the group told Al-Monitor that this is a classic case of a journalist being attacked over his opinions. The Algiers court kept today’s session closed to the public and the media, citing coronavirus restrictions. People close to Drareni believe there are other reasons, pointing to recent and worrying data. The 2020 World Press Freedom Index ranks Algeria 146th out of 180 countries. It explained that the Algerian authorities continue to harass members of the media, stating, "Journalists covering the Hirak protests that began in February 2019 are often detained for questioning, placed in police custody or even jailed for extended periods."