CONSTANTINE, Algeria — An Algerian journalist who was expected to be released this week after serving a six-month sentence was kept behind bars in a move that surprised his attorneys and colleagues and underscored ongoing concerns about press freedom in the North African country.
Mustapha Bendjama, the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Le Provençal, has faced a raft of charges since authorities accused him of helping political activist Amira Bouraoui leave Algeria in the face of criminal charges in February.
Authorities’ February raid on Bendjama’s office and subsequent charges against him related to Bouraoui’s escape followed years of problems with the Algerian government, which accused him of writing favorably about pro-democracy street protests that led to the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019.
“Mustapha absolutely must be freed, because he has served his six-month sentence in the so-called ‘Amira Bouraoui affair,’” his lawyer, Abdellah Haboul, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Bendjama’s continued detention after an appeal from the local prosecutor shocked his family, lawyers and colleagues at his newspaper. They expected him to be released on Tuesday even though he faces other charges, including a 20-month sentence issued in October for allegedly disclosing classified documents and using foreign funds to disrupt public order.
The foreign funding charge is similar to the one under which another Algerian journalist — Ihsan El Kadi — is currently serving a seven-year sentence.
Habboul said it was out of the ordinary to remain behind bars while facing two sets of charges because in Algeria, defendants typically serve one sentence and then are freed while appealing their second.
Amira Bouraoui, the Franco-Algerian activist who fled to France in October, was also sentenced in absentia to ten years in prison. Her escape — with the help of French authorities — set off a diplomatic spat between France and led Algeria to withdraw its ambassador from Paris.
Everyone accused of helping Bouraoui escape, including her mother and cousin, faces criminal conspiracy charges for aiding her escape.
Source : ABC News