Algiers (AFP)

The trial of Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni, who has become a symbol of the fight for press freedom in his country, opened Monday in Algiers, while Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for his release and the dropping of charges. against him.

Aged 40, Mr. Drareni runs the online news site Casbah Tribune and works as a correspondent in Algeria for the French television channel Tv5Monde and the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

His hearing began in the early afternoon at the Sidi M'hamed court in Algiers, according to AFP journalists on the spot.

He is tried by videoconference from the Kolea penitentiary center, near Algiers, where he was placed in preventive detention on March 29.

Khaled Drareni is accused of "inciting an unarmed assembly and attacking the integrity of the national territory" after covering in early March in Algiers a demonstration of "Hirak", the popular uprising that rocked Algeria for more than one year until his suspension a few months ago due to the Covid-19 epidemic.

- "Freelance journalist" -

Mr. Drareni, who faces up to 10 years in prison, rejected the charges, assuring that he had only done his "job as a freelance journalist", according to a reporter on the spot.

He is being tried in the company of two figures from the "Hirak", Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, who were present in the courtroom.

Under the same charges, the latter two were granted provisional release on July 2, which left the lawyers of Mr. Drareni perplexed, who was kept in prison.

The prosecutor on Monday requested four years in prison against the three accused, as well as the deprivation of their civil rights.

"We are optimistic about the provisional release of Khaled. The lawyers will demand his release from prison and the postponement of the trial until September," Benlarbi told AFP.

All trials are supposed to take place behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Several Algerian and international human rights and press freedom NGOs have urged the authorities in recent months to release Khaled Drareni and put an end to "targeted harassment of independent media".

RSF, which is leading an international campaign on his behalf, called on Monday for his immediate release and the dropping of all charges against him.

"We must free Khaled Drareni, out of loyalty to the ideals of Algerian independence," wrote Pierre Audin, son of anti-colonial activist Maurice Audin, and RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire, in a column published Thursday by the daily Le Monde.

Algerian justice has increased the number of legal proceedings and convictions of "Hirak" activists, political opponents, journalists and bloggers.

- Other reporters jailed -

Last week, journalist Moncef Aït Kaci, a former correspondent for France 24, and cameraman Ramdane Rahmouni, were arrested and placed in preventive detention for 24 hours before being released amid public outcry.

Several Algerian journalists are in prison and trials are underway.

Abdelkrim Zeghileche, pro "Hirak" activist and director of an Algerian radio station broadcast on the Internet, Radio-Sarbacane, was again imprisoned on June 24 in Constantine (north-east).

Another journalist close to "Hirak", Ali Djamel Toubal, correspondent for the private media group Ennahar, was sentenced on July 14 to 15 months in prison by the Mascara court of appeal (north-west), in particular for having Released footage showing police manhandling anti-regime protesters.

Also behind bars, Belkacem Djir, journalist for the private news TV channel Echourouk News, was sentenced on June 28 to three years in prison in a common law case related to his investigative work.

Algeria is in 146th place (out of 180) in the 2020 world press freedom ranking established by RSF. It fell 27 places compared to 2015 (119th).

rk-fa-ad-sc / amb-agr / vl

© 2020 AFP