The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and a handful of independent media outlets criticized the government, but the government severely restricted these rights. The government’s techniques included harassment of critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists, and control of a significant proportion of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising funding preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Authorities arrested and detained citizens for doing so, and citizens practiced self-restraint in voicing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about the conduct of the security forces during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in force, although there were no cases of arrest or prosecution under the law during the year. The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for tracts, bulletins, or flyers that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials to restrict public discussion.
Arrested for posting an ironic comment on Facebook regarding anti-shale-gas protests, an El Oued court convicted CNDDC activist Rachid Aouine on March 9 of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and sentenced him to six months in prison, which the court later reduced to four months. On May 11, a judge convicted him of “insulting a government body” for allegedly posting a video online showing several gendarmes beating a young protester. Although a judge reversed this two-year sentence and cleared Aouine of the charges in June, the prosecutor appealed this decision, and on October 28, another judge ruled him innocent and again cleared him of the charges. This second appeal transferred the case to the Supreme Court where, as of December, there was no final verdict.
On October 20, police arrested and confiscated the computer of human rights activist Zoulikha Belarbi. Although authorities did not confirm the reasons for her arrest, human rights activists alleged that because police seized her personal computer, it was likely due to a satirical photomontage she posted on Facebook that included the face of President Bouteflika and a caption describing his rule as a “saga turned nightmare.”
Press and Media Freedoms: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. In September, ANEP stated that it represented only half of the total advertising market, while non-governmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.
On October 12, Algiers police raided the headquarters of El-Watan El-Djazairya, a private, foreign-based television station broadcasting in the country, and closed down the station upon orders of the Algiers mayor. Minister of Communication Hamid Grine accused the television station on October 7 of “harming a state symbol” during an interview it aired on October 3 with the former emir of the Islamic Salvation Army, Madani Mezrag. During the interview Mezrag indirectly threatened President Bouteflika after the president affirmed that the government would not let Mezrag form a political party due to his connection to terrorist activities. The Ministry of Communication stated that El-Watan El-Djazairya--which operated without official accreditation--violated the law requiring government authorization for opening television channels. Several days before this event, Minister Grine affirmed that only five of 43 private television channels operated with official government accreditation.
Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties, including legal Islamist parties, had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated that they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the near impossibility of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.
Police arrested Hassan Bouras, journalist for Al Magharibia satellite station and a board member of the LADDH, on October 2 for insulting a government body and inciting armed conflict against the state. On October 4, a judge ordered him to remain in pretrial detention instead of provisional liberty but reportedly did not inform Bouras or his defense attorney of the basis for the charges against him. Witnesses reported that police broke into Bouras’ home on October 2, detained him, and took his computers, telephones, money, cameras, notebook, passport, and national identity card. Noureddine Ahmine, a defense lawyer for Bouras, said that as of November 6, the judge did not provide any evidence to support the charges against Bouras or announce the trial date, and Bouras remained detained at El Bayadh prison.
Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources. The CNCPPDH, a governmental organization, noted in its 2014 annual report that lack of a law controlling advertising was the largest hurdle to improving transparency of the distribution of public advertising (see also section 5).
In October the Ministry of Communication stated that there were 269 accredited, written publications that included 140 daily newspapers, 16 weekly and 31 monthly magazines, and other specialized publications. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state operated.
The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited, but the government tolerated their operations. The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, 13 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition to five private Algerian television channels, 11 foreign broadcasting channels and two foreign radio stations operated throughout the year.
The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.
Violence and Harassment: News sources critical of the government reported instances of government harassment and intimidation due to their reporting. Government officials arrested and temporarily detained journalists.
On November 19, a Meghair court sentenced cartoonist Tahar Djehiche to six months in prison for “insulting the president” and “inciting an unarmed gathering.” A judge acquitted Djehiche in May of the same charges after he published cartoons critical of the exploitation of shale gas in the southern province of Ain Salah on Facebook. An unknown party appealed this May verdict, resulting in the November trial.
In March 2014 nine gendarmes in plainclothes raided the Al-Atlas headquarters and studios in Algiers and confiscated dozens of video cameras and photography equipment. Al-Atlas remained closed at year’s end.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government.
Following the April 24 broadcast of the satirical weekly show El Djazairia Weekend, El Djazairia television broadcasting Director Karim Kardache announced the cancellation of the program. Several days prior, President of the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV) Miloud Chorfi summoned Kardache and issued a public statement warning the television channel about a show that “lapses into sarcasm and mocks people as well as state symbols and senior officers of government institutions.” The April 17 broadcast of El Djazairia Weekend reported on the findings of a French book that described high-end French properties owned by Algerian leaders, including an apartment owned by the family of Prime Minister Sellal.
On February 25, the Ministry of Communication’s director of accreditation for foreign correspondents informed Boualem Goumrassa, a correspondent for 11 years for the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, that it would not renew his accreditation. On March 11, Minister of Communication Grine stated in a press conference that “the Algerian state has the right not to renew the accreditation of correspondents of foreign newspapers and channels who insult, defame, or make use of verbal or written violence.”
Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and the definitions therein as failing to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement within which it is contained be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($952 to $4,760). The Ministry of Justice asserted that 99 percent of defamation claims originated from private citizens and not the government.
Access to the internet generally was unimpeded, although the government monitored certain e-mail and social media sites. Individuals and groups may engage in the expression of views via the internet, including by e-mail. Several activists reported that the slightest misstep in a Facebook update could result in arrest and questioning; thus, observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.
The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of service providers to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance operations to prevent offenses amounting to terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.
By law internet service providers face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($476 and $4,760) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.
In May 2014 the Oxford Business Group reported there were 12 million internet users in the country, up from the 11 million users announced by the minister of post, information technology, and communication.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Academic seminars and colloquia occurred with limited governmental interference.
On October 25, the commissioner for the Algiers International Book Fair announced that the governmental interministerial planning committee prevented 54 foreign publishing houses from participating in the fair because they failed to respect the country’s “internal regulations.” The planning committee also banned the inclusion of 106 books that allegedly encouraged violence, extremism, and discrimination or that attacked the national liberation war or state symbols.