Rabat – The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced on Friday, September 4, the “complete fabrication” of a news report shared by Algeria’s state media.
The report, published by Algerie Presse Service (APS) on Tuesday, September 1, claimed that the UN Dispute Tribunal in Geneva rejected a complaint from Algerian activists in a record time of 24 hours.
“The information contained in the article — which has been widely picked up by other media in Algeria and elsewhere — is a complete fabrication from start to finish,” OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said in a statement.
He added, “No UN human rights body with this name exists and we have been unable to identify any relevant UN staff member or independent UN human rights expert named Issam Al Muhammadi.”
Algeria’s news agency based its claims on an alleged interview broadcast two days earlier on Radio Monte Carlo. APS described an individual called Issam Al Muhammadi as the Secretary of the “UN Dispute Tribunal” and claimed that he announced the UN body’s rejection of Algerian activists’ complaints during the alleged interview.
OHCHR later clarified that while there is a body called the UN Dispute Tribunal, it deals exclusively with internal administrative issues within the UN and not with human rights issues.
Attempts to ‘credibilize’ the report
OHCHR also denounced APS’s use of a photo showing a UN meeting room in Geneva.
Algeria’s “news agency article contained a large photograph of a UN meeting room in Geneva, complete with UN logo, apparently aiming to lend credibility to the story,” Colville explained.
The OHCHR spokesperson confirmed that his organization received complaints from Algerian citizens and activists in recent weeks. He explained, however, that the UN body cannot accept or reject them in 24 hours and will examine them in due course. “While there are a number of human right bodies that do receive and examine complaints of this type, none of them conduct an expedited 24-hour procedure,” he said.
OHCHR urged APS to remove the false information from its website and issue a correction for its readers.
“We request that [APS] and Radio Monte Carlo — if indeed it was the original source of the story — withdraw this false information and make it clear to their readers and listeners that the story was a total fabrication,” Colville said.
Soon after the UN body denounced Algeria’s spreading of fake news, the report, initially published in Arabic, French, and English, completely disappeared from APS’s website. The news agency, however, did not publish any correction.
OHCHR condemns another Algerian news outlet
OHCHR’s recent statement also denounced a second “problematic” story. On Thursday, September 4, Algerian online media Algerie Part published a report that reveals the falsification of APS’s story.
However, Algerie Part’s report itself contained false quotes, according to OHCHR. The report contained several “exclusive” statements from OHCHR Spokesperson Marta Hurtado. OHCHR’s statement, however, said the quotes are “invented.”
Algerie Part’s report “included lengthy quotes from an interview it claimed it had conducted with another UN Human Rights Office spokesperson. While the spokesperson had spoken briefly to a number of journalists, the quotes ascribed to her by Algerie Part are largely invented,” Colville said.
After OHCHR condemned Algeria’s news agency, Algerie Part itself criticized the state-funded press agency. In a report titled “Algeria humiliated and ridiculized by the UN,” the news outlet called for the resignation of Algeria’s Minister of Communication and Government Spokesperson Ammar Belhimer.
While the reason behind the sharing of such falsified news remains unclear, the publication came soon after Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced a referendum to revise the country’s constitution.
Announced on August 25, the referendum will take place on November 1. According to the Algerian presidency, the new constitution is expected to “boost democracy and give the parliament a greater role.”
Tebboune’s announcement came after more than one year and a half of popular protests in Algeria.