Algerian Supreme Court overturns conviction of journalist Khaled Drareni, orders retrial

Drareni was arrested last year in March and was detained without charge or trial while he was covering the Hirak protests in the country. He was charged with “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “endangering national unity”

March 26, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Khaled Drareni. Photo : Amnesty International

Algeria’s Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of well-known journalist Khaled Drareni and ordered a retrial. He had been sentenced to a three-year prison term last year, which was reduced to two years on appeal. Drareni’s conviction for covering the historic Hirak protests in the country had been widely condemned by human rights groups, Hirak movement figures and press freedom organizations such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Abdelghani Badi, one of Drareni’s defense team members told AFP, “I hope that in this new trial, there will be no pressure on the judiciary, as has been the case before.” 

After the news broke, Drareni said, “We hope…the new trial…will correct the two trials that I underwent in the first instance and in the appeals court.” He also expressed disappointment at the country’s highest court not ordering the proceedings against him to end, forcing him to go through a third trial.

Drareni, a correspondent with French-language TV5 Monde and RSF, was arrested last year in March and was detained without charge or trial while he was covering the Hirak demonstrations in the country. In 2019, the movement successfully forced the longtime president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to resign after being in power for 20 years. 

Drareni was subsequently charged with “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “endangering national unity.” The evidence for this charge was Drareni’s social media posts, expressing concern for the country’s political system. In his social media posts, he had also expressed support for the Hirak protests and urged opposition political parties to continue their protests till their demands were met. He was also charged with criticizing the government and the new president of Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune. Drareni has consistently denied all charges against him, saying that he was only fulfilling his duty as an independent journalist by keeping Algerian citizens informed about the developments.

During his detention and trial, rallies and demonstrations were held in Algeria, and fellow journalists came together and formed the National Khaled Drareni Committee. In neighboring Tunisia too, journalists gathered in front of their union’s headquarters to extend solidarity with Drareni and to demand his release. A massive international campaign was organized by activists, journalists and human rights groups who staged rallies in cities across the world, one such notable rally being held in front of the embassy of Algeria in Paris.

According to latest data from the Algerian National Commission for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), around 30 Algerians are still being held in prison for their participation in the Hirak protests or other such movements, despite the government recently releasing 40 political prisoners.