Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests.
In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with 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 last year.
Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,” Reporters Without Borders said, adding that the government was “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 Sept. 26 last year 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.
Last month, Algerian Minister of Justice Belkacem Zeghmati said that Djir and Merakchi were both being prosecuted for “common law acts,” without giving details.
On Wednesday, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune pardoned 5,037 prisoners, but the amnesty was not extended to the dozens of supporters of the anti-government protest movement.
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