Algerian journalist Belkacem Djir was acquitted of all charges by a court in Algiers on Wednesday, September 23. He is expected to be released soon after over a year in detention, according to his lawyer Fatiha Rouibi. Djir was accused of ‘blackmail’ and using a ‘false identity’ and sentenced to three years in prison. His lawyer wrote in a Facebook post that the Algiers court has dropped all charges against Djir, but withheld any further information citing the acute sensitivity of the case against the journalist.
34-year-old Djir was detained by the Algerian authorities in July last year while he was working for the private television channel Echourouk News. On June 28, the court of Bir Mourad Rais sentenced Djir to three years in prison for the above mentioned charges. Following his arrest, he was also accused of “undermining the morale of the army troops”, for which he was prosecuted. He is currently being held at the El Harrach prison while awaiting release following the dismissal of all charges against him by the court in Algiers.
Djir is one of several journalists who are currently being detained by the Algerian government authorities. The most prominent among them are journalists Khaled Drareni and Abdelkrim Zeghileche, both of whom have been slapped with prison sentences of two years each on trumped up and conspiratorial charges such as “inciting an unarmed gathering”, “endangering national unity”, “undermining national unity” and “subverting the personality of the President of the Republic.” The government has been accused of targeting and silencing its critics and those who support the popular anti-government Hirak protesst that has been going on in the country for over a year.
Both Drareni and Zeghileche had in the past regularly expressed their support for the Hirak protests and participated in spreading awareness about the systemic issues and concerns it raised and was fighting for. They had also provided a platform for Hirak movement leaders and other opposition figures to speak out against the government on their respective media organizations. This invited the wrath of the Algerian government which perceived it as a threat to its legitimacy and authority. The government proceeded to target the two journalists. Drareni, who was sentenced to three years in prison, was resentenced by a court in Algiers this month following an appeal against his original sentence. His sentence was reduced to two years in prison.
According to human rights group National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), 61 other Algerian citizens, besides Drareni and Zeghileche, who were associated with the Hirak protest movement, are currently being illegally detained by the government. Among them are several journalists, activists, lawyers, opposition figures and Hirak protesters. International human rights organizations, press freedom watchdogs and Algerian civil society groups have repeatedly called upon the government to unconditionally release all political prisoners, many of whom are being held in prison without charge or trial for indefinite periods of time.