Media watchdog says Algeria using virus to ‘settle scores’

Tunis
– Reporters Without Borders has accused Algeria’s government of taking
advantage of the coronavirus epidemic to “settle scores” with
independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government
protests.

In a statement co-signed with
Algerian NGOs, the watchdog called on Thursday for the immediate release of its
correspondent Khaled Drareni, who has been in pre-trial detention since 29 March
on a charge of inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity.

Drareni has been arrested several
times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the
capital Algiers every Friday since February 2019.

Imprisoning people during a
pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment”, RSF said, accusing the
government of “taking advantage of the coronavirus epidemic to settle
scores with independent journalism”.

The statement also called for the
immediate release of journalists Belkacem Djir and Sofiane Merakchi.

Merakchi, a correspondent for
Lebanese TV channel Al-Mayadeen, has been in jail since 26 September and is
accused of “concealing equipment” and providing images of the
protests to Al-Jazeera and other foreign media.

The reasons for Djir’s
imprisonment are unknown.

In early March, justice minister
Belkacem Zeghmati said Djir and Merakchi were both being prosecuted for
“common law acts”, without giving details.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
pardoned 5 037 prisoners on Wednesday, but the amnesty was not extended to the
dozens of supporters of the anti-government protest movement.

Algeria has reported 986 cases of
the Covid-19 disease and 83 deaths.

Media watchdog says Algeria using virus to 'settle scores'