published : 2023-10-13

Algerian Supreme Court Rejects Appeals by Imprisoned Journalist

Ihsane El Kadi, one of Algeria's most prominent dissidents, remains imprisoned

A journalist standing outside the Algerian Supreme Court, anxiously awaiting the court's decision. (Taken with a Nikon D850)

A journalist in Algeria targeted as part of a broader crackdown against pro-democracy protests will remain imprisoned after the country's Supreme Court rejected his appeals on Thursday.

Defense attorneys for Ihsane El Kadi, the owner of a media company that oversaw Algeria's now-shuttered news site Maghreb Emergent and radio station Radio M, filed two appeals asking the court to overturn the journalist's sentence for taking foreign funds for his media outlets and 'inciting acts susceptible to threaten state security.'

El Kadi is one of hundreds of people associated with Algeria's pro-democracy movement who have faced criminal charges and imprisonment, including Mustapha Bendjama, another journalist.

El Kadi's website and radio station emerged as key channels during the North African nation's 2019 Hirak protests.

In April, a court in Algiers gave him a 7-year sentence that included three years in prison and ordered his website and radio station shut down.

Ihsane El Kadi, the imprisoned journalist, reading the news headlines about his case on a tablet inside his prison cell. (Taken with a Canon EOS R)

The sentence was part of a growing list of criminal penalties given to journalists, reflecting the increasing difficulties they face throughout North Africa.

Khaled Drareni, Reporters Without Borders' North Africa representative, said press freedoms had regressed in recent years throughout the region as journalists face imprisonment or fines as they try to do their jobs.

This is very bad news because everyone expected this appeal would be accepted, including lawyers who pointed out many irregularities in the trial,” he said, noting concerns about the lack of evidence against El Kadi presented in court. “We're all in a bit of a state of shock.

The trend represents a reversal for Algeria, which nurtured a vibrant independent press after it rose from its 'black decade' of civil war during the 1990s.

Algeria's Hirak protests were among the post-Arab Spring Middle East's largest and led to the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019.

Pro-democracy protesters gathering in the streets of Algeria, holding signs in support of Ihsane El Kadi and other jailed journalists. (Taken with a Sony Alpha a7 III)

But its weekly demonstrations and sit-ins subsided during the coronavirus pandemic.

Boutefilka's successor, President Abdelmajid Tebboune, initially released some jailed protesters but later restarted jailing journalists and opposition figures, causing the hopes of the Hirak movement to dissipate.

El Kadi was taken into custody in December 2022.

Though the appeal was likely the last avenue to fighting his conviction, El Kadi's lawyer Fetta Sadat said the defense team held out hope that Tebboune may pardon him next month, on the anniversary of Algerian independence.