The Sidi M’hamed Court in Algiers on Tuesday, September 14, placed prominent Algerian journalist Mohamed Mouloudj in pre-trial detention on charges including spreading false news, harming national unity, and belonging to a terrorist group. Mouloudj was arrested in the northern city of Tizi Ouzou on Sunday by Algerian police, who also raided his home, according to the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH). Authorities reportedly arrested six other people and sent them to custody the same day. The next day, 16 people, including an unidentified journalist, were arrested. The authorities alleged that they are members of the banned Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), a separatist group that the government considers a terrorist organization.
Mouloudj, a journalist working with the Liberte daily, is well known for covering significant issues, such as the anti-establishment Hirak movement protests and the self-determination movement of the Kabylie region. His colleague, Ali Boukhlef, was quoted by the AFP as saying, “He had already had run-ins with the security services, who took away his passport for months. He had also been taken in for questioning several times.”
During the hearing on Tuesday, the judge questioned Mouloudj about his communication with Ferhat Mehenni, the president of the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie, which Mouloudj explained was part of his work. If convicted of the charges against him, he faces five years in prison for spreading fake news, 10 for harming national security, and either the death penalty or life in prison for being a member of a designated terrorist group.
The 16 others detained are being investigated in connection with the recent forest fires in the Northeast Kabylie region and the lynching of a man falsely accused of starting the fires. Other well-known figures arrested include the writer and linguist Abdenour Abdeslam and academic and Hirak activist Fodhil Boumala. Abdelslam was arrested on Sunday and placed in pre-trial detention on terrorism charges and Boumala, was arrested on Tuesday and placed in preventive detention on undisclosed charges, according to his lawyer, Mustapha Bouchachi. Last week, another Algerian journalist Hassan Bouras was arrested and placed in preventive detention on various charges, including “glorifying terrorism.”
Human rights and press freedom groups condemned the arrests and raids by the authorities. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly accused the Algerian government of charging journalists with “vaguely worded offenses in the penal code” in criminal prosecutions brought against them to intimidate them.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a statement, called on the Algerian authorities to release Mouloudj immediately. The CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour was quoted as saying, “Algerian authorities must release journalist Mohamed Mouloudj immediately and drop all the charges against him. Algerian journalists should be able to work freely and cover sensitive topics without fear that they will be jailed and face charges that could carry the death penalty.” Mouloudj’s wife, Louisa, said on Facebook that “Mohamed is an Algerian patriot who cannot harm a fly.” She added that the accusations against him are designed to “punish him for his ideas.”
The consistent, widespread crackdown against journalists in Algeria has resulted in the country being ranked 146 out of 180 countries in the Annual World Press Freedom Index rankings by Reporters Without Borders, down several notches compared to previous years.