On Christmas Eve last year, Shortly after midnight, plainclothes police entered the house of Ihsane el-Kadi, an Algerian journalist, and arrested him. According to a press release from Radio M, an independent local radio station where el-Kadi worked, he was detained without trial and has still not been released. He is accused of committing or inciting acts likely to undermine state security. El-Kadi was also the director of Emerging Maghreb, a news site which, along with Radio M, was shut down at the same time as el-Kadi’s arrest. Daikha Dridi, an Algerian journalist who formerly worked for Radio M, described the media, at the FinancialTimesas “the last media space where people could still discuss politics and publish critical articles without censoring themselves”.
El-Kadi’s arrest and the closure of his outlets sparked an outcry from the media and human rights defenders demanding his release. His case comes as journalists fight for press freedom against increasingly authoritarian regimes across North Africa, and new voices express their solidarity with them. Recently, for example, the European Parliament, which has always been very friendly with Morocco, voted to condemn the country’s human rights record for the first time in more than two decades, citing the mistreatment to journalists, amid a scandal alleging corrupt Moroccan influence in parliament.
Recently, Reporters Without Borders referred el-Kadi’s case to the United Nations, asking the organization to intercede and help secure his release. Last week, I spoke with Khaled Drareni, a prominent Algerian journalist who spent time in prison in the country and who is now RSF’s representative in North Africa, about the arrest of el-Kadi and the state of media freedom in Algeria. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why is the case that was referred to the UN important?
El-Kadi’s case has been referred to the United Nations because we believe it to be a serious violation of human rights and freedom of the press. This journalist has only done his job of writing articles critical of the authorities. The decision to arrest him and shut down these media is therefore totally unjustifiable. This is the reason why we have decided to forward the file to the United Nations, and to alert them to this violation of press freedom in Algeria.
What does RSF hope to achieve with this affair, which went to the UN?
The purpose of the referral is to alert the UN to this violation of press freedom and journalistic freedom, but also to obtain a clear reaction from the UN organization. We hope to catch the attention of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Opinion, Irene Khan. The goal is to make it react and take this violation into consideration in its report so that the Algerian authorities are officially questioned by the United Nations.
You last interview with CJR in February 2021, following your release from prison. What has been the general state of press freedom in Algeria since then?
The situation is worrying year after year. Several journalists have been imprisoned. Two in particular were imprisoned for press offences, while the Algerian Constitution, in its article 54, provides that the press cannot be deprived of freedom. Dozens of journalists are being prosecuted. Many are under judicial control. Others are awaiting trial. Several newspapers have disappeared, including the newspaper Freedom. The newspaper El Watan experiencing enormous difficulties that could lead to its disappearance.
What are you doing these days? Do you actively practice journalism?
Currently, I am the representative of Reporters Without Borders in North Africa. I am dealing with the situation in six countries: Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Sudan. I am trying to document press freedom violations in these six countries and help journalists who are prosecuted or harassed in these North African countries. Since I have this new mission of representing RSF in North Africa, I no longer practice journalism.
What does the future of journalism look like in Algeria?
Despite all the difficulties that exist in Algeria, I remain optimistic because the job of journalist is important in Algeria. Many students, after the baccalaureate, choose to do journalism; it is a specialty that remains quite popular among students. There is great potential for journalism in Algeria. Algerians need a free press that informs them honestly and with credible information. So despite the difficult situation, I remain optimistic for the future of journalism in Algeria.
Algeria is ranked very low when it comes to freedom of the press in the world. (Last year, the country ranked 134th out of 180 countries and territories in the world according to RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.) In your opinion, what should be done to change this?
Indeed, the ranking of Algeria by Reporters Without Borders is not good. It gained a few places but the situation remains worrying. I think the authorities must understand that Algerians need a press, and must also appreciate the importance of a free press. It’s good for information in the country but also for the brand image of Algeria. We cannot design a modern, democratic state without a free press.
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- And some sad news from the home front: Victor Navasky, longtime editor and publisher of The nation who also written for CJR and sat on our Supervisory Board, is dead. He was ninety years old. “I think it was Walter Cronkite who used to end his nightly newscasts by saying, ‘That’s the way it is,'” Navasky said. “Well, I wanted to put out a magazine that would say, ‘It’s not like that at all. Let’s take another look.
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Mercy Tonnia Orengo is a CJR Fellow.
TOP IMAGE: A protest against the Algerian government in London in 2019. Credit: Steve Eason, Flickr.