Eight independent UN experts condemned the two-year prison sentence the Algerian journalist received for his coverage of the Hirak protests.
Independent experts at the United Nations have called on Algeria to release Khaled Drareni, a journalist who received a two-year jail sentence for his coverage of the Hirak protests.
Authorities arrested Drareni on March 29 while he was covering the protests, which began in February 2019 to call for a political overhaul. Police detained him twice in 2019.
The independent journalist initially received a three-year prison sentence in August for “endangering the integrity of the national territory” with his coverage of the protests.
An Algiers appeals court reduced Drareni’s original sentence from three to two years on Tuesday.
Eight independent UN experts condemned the sentence “in the strongest possible terms” on Wednesday during the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
The reduced sentence does not make Drareni’s conviction any less “inappropriate,” the experts stressed, “because the charges brought against him are a blatant violation of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and of association.”
They urged Algerian authorities to free him immediately. “Khaled Drareni, and all the others currently in prison, or awaiting trial simply for doing their job and defending human rights must be immediately released and protected,” the experts stated.
The signatories include the special rapporteurs on peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion, and human rights defenders, as well as members of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
“We are very alarmed by the extent of the crackdown on dissent in Algeria,” the experts said. “Civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and journalists are increasingly monitored and harassed in the exercise of their legitimate work.”
Algerian authorities are ramping up their use of national security laws to prosecute people who exercise their rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, and of peaceful assembly and association, they underlined.
The independent experts also expressed concern with an Algerian draft law. The legislation would criminalize the dissemination of fake news and the funding of any association that could “undermine the State or fundamental interests of Algeria.”
“If passed, this law would pave the way for more arrests and detentions of dissidents, such as protesters and supporters of the Hirak movement,” the experts stressed.
“We urge the government to end the arrest and detention of political activists, lawyers, journalists, and human rights defenders, as well as anyone who expresses dissent or criticism [of the] government.”
The Hirak movement began in February 2019 in response to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announcing he would seek re-election for a fifth term. Bouteflika, 83, eventually resigned in April 2020 under pressure from the military. His 20 years in office made him Algeria’s longest-serving head of state.
After the election of Abdelmajjid Tebboune in December 2019 and his promised “reforms,” protests are ongoing, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The repression of dissent has continued under Algeria’s new president, evidenced in the conviction of journalists such as Khaled Drareni, the dispersing of protests, and internet blackouts.