The courtroom in the court of Algiers literally exploded on the announcement of the two-year prison sentence of Khaled Drareni, this Tuesday, September 15 on appeal. The journalist from Casbah Tribune, correspondent for TV5 Monde, detained since March 27, was sentenced at first instance to three years of imprisonment on August 10. The court upheld the two charges of“Attack on national unity” and D’“Incitement to unarmed assembly” against Khaled Drareni, prosecuted for covering a demonstration by Hirak, the protest movement launched in February 2019,
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His two co-defendants in the same case, Samir Belarbi – one of the Hirak figures – and human rights activist Slimane Hamitouche, who appeared free, saw their four-month prison term, covered by their detention provisional, also confirmed.
Anger against “telephone justice”
The many supporters, journalists, activists, families, angry, chanted slogans for the release of Khaled Drareni and against the “Telephone justice”, a direct allusion to the lack of independence of the judges in the treatment of political cases as in the case of this case. The emotion was very strong. Many relatives, colleagues, members of his family were in tears. And the security services had to resort to reinforcements to evacuate the raging gathering of a hundred people.
Slogans hostile to Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the president since December 2019, also resounded around the court, where defense lawyers improvised a press briefing in front of the media. “It’s been a political affair from the start. We have the ultimate proof of that today. There is nothing in the accused’s file to justify a conviction. President Tebboune interfered in this issue and he made it infernal for everyone ”, said Abdelghani Badi, one of the main defenders of the three defendants in a group of 39 volunteer lawyers.
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For Lamine Maghnine, the founder of the Arabic-speaking site Tarik News, “President Tebboune is directly responsible for this sentence; he must intervene, as of today, to end this masquerade ”.
The president under the control of the security power
If the Algerian president is thus invited to the front line, it is because he declared, without citing his name, that Khaled Drareni was “An informant (Khbarji) for foreigners”, during a televised meeting, on May 2, with journalists.
The intervention had caused a shock within the collective of the defense, the legal file containing no allusion to a case of espionage. Khaled Drareni is also a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders in Algeria and has been subjected to constant intimidation for his work defending the freedom of journalists.
For many observers, Abdelmadjid Tebboune is a novice president, who has multiplied the blunders since taking office and allowed himself to be intoxicated by the security power, decided to silence an inflexible professional witness of the popular marches. “Tebboune did not expect the reaction in support of Khaled Drareni to be so strong in Algeria and in the world. He no longer knows how to get out of this misstep except by persisting in denying his initial fault. It sinks. It’s terrible for Algeria ”, comments Sofiane Hamrache, member of the support committee.
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The lawyers will now challenge this verdict of September 15 before the Supreme Court in cassation. Me Mustapha Bouchachi does not rule out the possibility of a presidential intervention to give freedom to Khaled Drareni in a scenario where the political power does not lose face and keeps control over the enlargement decisions, “To say that they are not conceded to pressure”.
Hirak activists were released by the president on January 2 and July 2. But there are still 47 prisoners of conscience in Algeria, according to the Hirak Prisoners Defense Committee.