See also:
» 11.03.2011 - Algeria protests risk losing momentum
» 15.02.2011 - Call for massive renewed protests in Algeria
» 21.04.2009 - Bouteflika told to redress rights violations in Algeria
» 03.04.2009 - Opposition condemned for raising a black flag
» 30.03.2009 - Next president urged to address impunity
» 05.03.2009 - Government restricts opposition ahead of elections
» 11.02.2009 - Bouteflika to run for third term
» 19.09.2008 - IFJ request Algeria to respect journalist right

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Human rights | Media

Algerian human rights activist released

afrol News, 29 November - Algerian journalist and human rights activist Hafnaoui Ghoul has surprisingly been granted provisional release from prison. He was arrested six months ago for libel, causing massive protests in Algeria and internationally as an example of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

Mr Ghoul is the correspondent of the daily newspaper 'El-Youm' in Djelfa - 270 kilometres south of Algiers - and heads the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights' (Ligue algérienne de défense des droits de l'homme, LADDH) regional office there. He was released from prison on 25 November after being arrested six months ago for libel.

On 24 November, Mr Ghoul was transferred from Ourgla prison to Djelfa prison and then was released the next day without explanation. He had applied for provisional release on 23 November, at the encouragement of prison authorities, and his request was granted within 48 hours. The Supreme Court of Algeria must however still consider the appeals filed by his lawyers.

Speaking on the phone with the French media watchdogs Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), Mr Ghoul said: "I am very happy with this outcome, but this is not the end of the fight for press freedom and human rights." He said his release came as a "surprise." It follows President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's visit to Djelfa as part of a campaign to destroy Algeria's last stocks of anti-personnel mines.

The Algerian activist and journalist on 24 May this year was detained by plainclothes police officers as he left his home. He was placed in custody in connection with a libel action brought by the prefect of Djelfa.

Following a summary trial, he was sentenced on 26 May to six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars (approximately euro 515). His offence was reporting on the alleged abuse of authority by the prefect and the fact that 13 babies were found dead in Djelfa hospital.

On 11 July, a court sentenced Mr Ghoul to a further three months in prison and a fine of 100,000 dinars (approximately euro 1,030) on appeal, in connection with another case.

On 8 August, he was sentenced to another three months in prison, a fine of 50,000 dinars and damages of 1 million dinars (approximately euro 10,300) for an article that appeared in the 23 May edition of the Arabic-language daily 'El Djazaïr News'. The article dealt with local corruption and mismanagement and was the subject of libel actions by 14 plaintiffs.

Finally, on 29 August, the Djelfa Appeals Court upheld a sentence of two months in prison and a fine of 2,000 dinars (approximately euro 21) that had been imposed because Mr Ghoul sent his daughter a letter from prison in a manner that violated prison rules.

In all, about 20 libel actions were brought against Mr Ghoul by local figures and government offices. In August, he staged a hunger strike in protest over this judicial harassment, but called it off after two weeks for health reasons.

RSF today welcomed the unexpected provisional release of Mr Ghoul. "Ghoul has been reunited with his family after being unjustly imprisoned for six long and hard months," the group said. "This good news must now be followed by the dropping of all the proceedings against him so that this judicial intrigue against him can end."

The French group said it hoped his release was a sign that the government had decided to defuse its "extremely stormy" relations with the privately-owned press. "Algerian journalists who are sued for libel should no longer have to fear prison sentences, a sword of Damocles that is contrary to international press freedom standards," RSF said.

- We call on the Algerian authorities to display the same open-mindedness toward 'Le Matin' editor Mohammed Benchicou, who was sentenced to two years in prison, the group added. Mr Benchicou began serving a two-year prison sentence on 14 June for "violating the law governing exchange controls and capital movements."

Certificates of deposit had been found in his luggage at Algiers airport in August 2003. Human rights groups however had seen his imprisonment in connection with his political writing. 'Le Matin' opposed President Bouteflika during his April campaign for re-election. In February, Mr Benchicou published a scathing leaflet about the president entitled, "Bouteflika, an Algerian imposter".

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