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A journalist in Algeria targeted as part of a broader crackdown against pro-democracy protests will remain imprisoned after the country’s Supreme Court rejected his appeals on Thursday.
Defense attorneys for Ihsane El Kadi, the owner of a media company that oversaw Algeria’s now-shuttered news site Maghreb Emergent and radio station Radio M, filed two appeals asking the court to overturn the journalist’s sentence for taking foreign funds for his media outlets and “inciting acts susceptible to threaten state security.”
El Kadi is one of hundreds of people associated with Algeria’s pro-democracy movement who have faced criminal charges and imprisonment, including Mustapha Bendjama, another journalist. El Kadi’s website and radio station emerged as key channels during the North African nation’s 2019 Hirak protests.
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In April, a court in Algiers gave him a 7-year sentence that included three years in prison and ordered his website and radio station shut down. The sentence was part of a growing list of criminal penalties given to journalists, reflecting the increasing difficulties they face throughout North Africa.
Khaled Drareni, Reporters Without Borders’ North Africa representative, said press freedoms had regressed in recent years throughout the region as journalists face imprisonment or fines as they try to do their jobs.
An Algerian flag is photographed at a demonstration in Marseille, France, May 14, 2022. (Photo by Gerard Bottino/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
“This is very bad news because everyone expected this appeal would be accepted, including lawyers who pointed out many irregularities in the trial,” he said, noting concerns about the lack of evidence against El Kadi presented in court. “We’re all in a bit of a state of shock.”
The trend represents a reversal for Algeria, which nurtured a vibrant independent press after it rose from its “black decade” of civil war during the 1990s.
“I’m devastated. I have no words,” El Kadi’s wife, Djamila Ait Yala, told The Associated Press after her husband’s appeal was rejected.
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Algeria’s Hirak protests were among the post-Arab Spring Middle East’s largest and led to the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019. But its weekly demonstrations and sit-ins subsided during the coronavirus pandemic.
Boutefilka’s successor, President Abdelmajid Tebboune, initially released some jailed protesters but later restarted jailing journalists and opposition figures, causing the hopes of the Hirak movement to dissipate.
El Kadi was taken into custody in December 2022. Though the appeal was likely the last avenue to fighting his conviction, El Kadi’s lawyer Fetta Sadat said the defense team held out hope that Tebboune may pardon him next month, on the anniversary of Algerian independence.
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Sadat said he had yet to see the ruling announced in court on Thursday and would wait to see it before moving forward.