Protests against defamation provision in Algiers

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afrol News, 24 April - On Sunday, over 100 journalists held a one hour demonstration in front of the National Popular Assembly (Assemblée populaire Nationale, APN, first house of parliament) to demand that members of parliament reject the proposed Penal Code defamation provision reforms. 

Article 144a in the new bill introduces the offence of "insulting the president of the republic". The article stipulates that anyone who insults the president using an "offensive, insulting or slanderous expression" in writing, drawings, statements or any other supporting words or pictures is liable to a one to three-year prison term and fines of 100,000 to 1,000,000 Algerian dinars (approx. US$1,400 to 14,000). Penalties are doubled for any subsequent offence. 

Another article in the bill (Article 144b) specifies thal legal proceedings are to be launched against "the author", "the managers of the publication or editorial staff" and "the publication itself". According to the government's bill, a publication found guilty of insulting the president faces fines of 500,000 to 5,000,000 dinars (approx. US$7,000 to 70,000). 

The demonstration against the provision on Sunday was organised by the National Union of Journalists (Syndicat National des Journalistes, SNJ). Several members of parliament, lawyers and personalities known for their commitment to press freedom joined the journalists' demonstration, the Algerian Centre of the International Federation of Journalists (FIJALGER) today reported. 

Since the end of last week, many in the journalism profession have mobilised to defeat the government's plans aimed at increasing penalties for defamation. 

On Friday 20 April, about fifteen newspaper publishers issued a press release urging members of parliament to "reject this text, which is fundamentally negative for democracy in Algeria." The publishers see the government's move as "dangerous and perilous for the country." 

In a press release published on Saturday 21 April, the SNJ expressed the belief that "members of parliament carry a historic responsibility," as they have every possibility to "stop this attempt to call the press to order." 

The High Council of Ethics, which is the regulatory body elected by journalists, believes that the government's plans "seriously threaten press freedom, journalists and society."  The Council has urged legislators to reject "all references to the imprisonment of journalists," define "the notions of contempt, insult and defamation with precision" and reduce the fines foreseen for such offences. 

Moreover, several hundred journalists signed a petition in which they express their "concern about the government's intention to muzzle the press and reestablish censorship" and call on members of parliament "to prove they are reasonable and responsible and take into account the longing for freedom and democracy of Algerian society as a whole." 

The FIJALGER recalls that the Penal Code amendments sought by the government provide for heavy prison sentences for insulting the president or a state body (one to three years) and fines of up to US$ 70,000. 

In March, the human rights group Article 19 sent a protest letter to Algerian president Bouteflika, stating its concern "that the proposals reported to be under consideration, if implemented, would constitute a regressive step for Algeria's legislation in this area, moving it further away from the highest international human rights standards to which Algeria is committed."

Source: Based on International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)

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