Scores of Algerians have staged a sit-in in front of the National Theater in the capital Algiers to protest the detention of two television executives since June 24.
An Algiers court ordered the pretrial detention of the two executives, Mahdi Benaissa, manager of the private KBC TV and Ryadh Hartouf, head of production for a satirical show over irregularities in the station’s permit.
The court order came five days after security forces shut down operations at the studio which produced talk shows Ness Stah (Roof People) and Ki Hna Ki Ness (Just Like Everybody Else), a satirical show which is critical of the government The studio’s production materials were confiscated in the process.
The two were arrested over irregularities in the station’s permit to shoot a program on location along with a Culture Ministry official Nora Nedjai who issued the licenses for the show.
Cherif Rezki, owner of El Khabar media group which owns KBC TV told Human Rights Watch that the arrests were as a result of investigations into the two talk shows, adding that security officials had on June 22 summoned Benaissa to a police station and ordered him to present proof that he had permission to air the two programs. Benaissa was arrested that night, he said.
Lawyer for the two TV executives said they had been accused of making false statements under article 223 of the penal code and complicity in the abuse of office under articles 33 and 42 of a June 2001 anti-corruption law, Human Rights Watch said on its website.
Journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has in a statement condemned the “attack on independent journalism” in Algeria and called on the “authorities not to hinder the work” of KBC.
Algerian journalists have also criticised the detention of the two television executives.
Khaled Drareni, a presenter with private Chourouk TV who participated in the sit-in described Benaissa as a “talented film producer, humble and courageous” and doesn’t deserve to be in jail, neither did Hartouf nor Nedjai.
Abdelkader Djerious who is a scriptwriter for the Ness Stah show said “the sit-in is just the beginning, there will be others if they are not released, we want to be with them and we are here for them.”
KBC TV is already embroiled in a legal tussle with the country’s communications ministry over its purchase of the El Khabar group which is critical of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Article 41 of Algeria’s new constitution, adopted by parliament in february 2016 guarantees freedom of the press with the qualification that it is exercised “within the boundaries of the law and respect for the nation’s religious, cultural and moral norms and values”.
The defense lawyers for the two men filed an appeal of the detention and the charges on June 26. The pre-trial court has 10 days to rule on the appeal and to decide whether to free the three defendants, according to Human Rights Watch.