- Algerian cartoonist Ali Dilem has received a suspended jail sentence and fine from an Algiers court for drawing the army's chief of staff. This is the second time Mr Dilem is sentenced for carrying out his profession, following a penal code amendment dubbed in his name.
Mr Dilem, a cartoonist with the daily 'Liberté', on 20 May received a suspended six-month sentence for a cartoon of the army's chief of staff, General Mohamed Lamari, published on 15 January 2002. The court also fined Mr Dilem 20,000 dinars (approx. 240 euros), fined 'Liberté' editor Abrous Outoudert 40,000 dinars (approx. 480 euros) and fined the newspaper 300,000 dinars (approx. 3,600 euros).
The Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF) today protested the sentence handed down by the Algiers court against Mr Dilem. "This is the first prison sentence ever handed down to a cartoonist," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard noted.
The sentence has been imposed as a result of Algeria's May 2001 Penal Code amendment, which was dubbed the 'Dilem amendment'. "The decision clearly demonstrates that the authorities want to intimidate journalists who display any kind of impertinence. It poses a threat to the more open tone favoured by many Algerian publications," Mr Ménard says.
This is however not the first time the 'Dilem amendment' has been used against the cartoonist. On 31 December 2002, an Algiers court sentenced Mr Dilem to a fine of 20,000 dinars for a cartoon on the assassination of President Boudiaf, which appeared on 16 January 2002. Also the newspaper was fined 10,000 dinars (approx. 120 euros).
As a result of another Defence Ministry complaint, Mr Dilem futher is awaiting prosecution for a cartoon on a fund-raising Téléthon on state television that appeared on 29 November 2001.
The 'Dilem amendment', or Penal Code Article 144b, provides for two- to 12-month prison terms and fines of up to 250,000 dinars for "attacks on the President of the Republic involving abuse, insult or defamation". The same penalties apply for offences committed against "the Parliament, either of its two chambers or the ANP [army]."
The amendments to the country's Penal Code were signed in May 2001 by President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika, who has had a bitter relationship with the media. During 2002 and 2003, Algerian officials on several occasions took advantage of these repressive new statutes, engendering self-censorship among many journalists.
While Algeria enjoys among the greatest press freedom in the Arab world, the situation is far from ideal. Journalists are often physically attacked or threatened and repressive tendencies among state officials have led to widespread self-censorship in the press.
Fear of government reprisal, ideological prejudices, and limited information keeps the media from covering sensitive topics, such as human rights, military corruption, and the military's controversial role in national politics, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). According to some reports, many journalists work for or have close ties with intelligence officers.
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