The trial of independent journalist Khaled Drareni opened Monday, August 3 in Algeria. The prosecutor of the court of Sidi M'hamed requested against him and his two co-defendants four years and a heavy fine against the three defendants, as well as the deprivation of their civil rights. 

"The prosecution file is an empty file. For us, it is a crime of opinion. Khaled Drareni was prosecuted for his opinions, especially since today at the hearing, we heard him in a very clear way. What one reproaches him, it is six publications on the social networks ", reacted on the antenna of France 24 Saïd Salhi, of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights. "The trial of Khaled Drareni is for us a test first for the freedom of the press, then for the independence of the judiciary itself", he insisted.

"Appalling and shocking! Four years in prison required by the public prosecutor against our correspondent in Algeria", also protested Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a tweet. "Khaled Drareni has only exercised his right to information. RSF calls for his immediate acquittal."

Appalling and shocking! 4 years in prison required by the public prosecutor against our correspondent in # Algeria, whose trial began today. @khaleddrareni has only exercised his right to inform. @RSF_inter calls for its immediate acknowledgment!

- RSF (@RSF_inter) August 3, 2020

A verdict expected next Monday

The verdict was returned to Monday, August 10, according to lawyers and journalists on the spot. Aged 40, Khaled Drareni runs the online news site Casbah Tribune and works as a correspondent in Algeria for French television channel TV5Monde and RSF. 

He is accused of "inciting an unarmed assembly and attacking the integrity of the national territory" after having covered on March 7 in Algiers a demonstration of "Hirak", the popular uprising which shook Algeria for more one year until his suspension, a few months ago due to the Covid-19 epidemic.

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

Dismissal of charges     

During the hearing, he rejected the accusations, assuring that he had only done his "job as a freelance journalist", according to a reporter there. He is being tried in the company of two Hirak figures, Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, also arrested on March 7 in Algiers, who were present in the courtroom. 

Under the same charges, the latter two were granted provisional release on July 2, while Khald Drareni had been kept in prison.

"We are optimistic about Khaled's provisional release. The lawyers will demand his release from prison and the postponement of the trial until September," Benlarbi said ahead of the hearing.

All trials are supposed to take place behind closed doors due to the 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".

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

Other imprisonments 

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, a pro-Hirak activist and director of an Algerian radio station broadcast on the Internet, Radio-Sarbacane, was again imprisoned on June 24 in Constantine.

Another journalist close to Hirak, Ali Djamel Toubal, correspondent for the private media group Ennahar, was sentenced on July 14 to fifteen months in prison by the Mascara Court of Appeal, in particular for having broadcast images showing police officers. bullying 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).

With AFP

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