Reporters Without Borders protested that a court in Algiers had acted to protect Algeria’s diplomatic relations with Libya by sentencing two journalists to six months in prison and a fine equivalent to 220 euros after Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi sued them for libel.
The court in the eastern city suburb of Hussein-Dey on 31 October 2006 also suspended the daily newspaper Ech-Chourouk for two months and ordered it to pay Gadhafi 500,000 dinars (5,500 euros) in damages.
Libya’s diplomatic delegation in Algiers laid a complaint at the start of October against editor Ali Fadil and journalist Naila Berrahal after the paper carried two articles during the summer of 2006 suggesting that the Libyan leader played a part in negotiations with Tuareg tribal leaders to create an independent state.
"The disproportion of this sentence illustrates once again the absurdity and subservience of the Algerian justice system. Today, and for the first time, it is being used to serve its diplomatic interests with another country,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“As long as press offences are not decriminalised, the courts will continue to be the instrument of the government. President’s Gadhafi’s touchiness does not stop at the borders of Libya. Not content just to scorn human rights in his own country, the ‘brother leader’ also acts indirectly against the Algerian press.”
Defence lawyer, Khaled Bergheul confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that he was planning to appeal as soon as the judge gave his full verdict.
“This verdict is very harsh in comparison with the facts of the case,” he added. Under Algerian law the sentence is suspended pending appeal.