Ihsane El Kadi has been in prison since the end of 2022, accused of “propaganda for foreign parties”, as the Algerian public prosecutor puts it. To this end, according to the prosecution, he is said to have illegally collected donations “from individuals and organizations inside and outside the country.” El Kadi is said to have endangered state security as well as national unity. The prosecutors did not comment more specifically.
El Kadi, head of the liberal news website Maghreb Emergent and the broadcaster Radio M, is considered a critical observer of Algerian politics. A day before his arrest, he had discussed on Radio M the likelihood of a second term in office for President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. He had also publicly expressed doubts about the success of the government’s anti-corruption efforts.
This is by no means the first time El Kadi has come into contact with the Algerian public prosecutor. He had already been sentenced to six months in prison in June last year. At the time, a former information minister in the country lodged a complaint against him over a Radio M report about an Islamist organization classified as “terrorist” in Algeria. The judgment was upheld on appeal. However, the court refrained from imprisoning El Kadi. He was not intimidated by the verdict: “The country, the citizens need us, so we stay and inform them,” he said at the time, according to the newspaper L’Orient le Jour.
But now the journalist could face a prison sentence of up to seven years. According to media reports, one day after his arrest, the headquarters of the agency “Interface Médias” – which is behind Radio M and Maghreb Emergent – was sealed. Material was also confiscated.
International human rights organizations have sharply criticized El Qadi’s detention. Reporters Without Borders (ROG) representative Khaled Drareni wrote that El Qadi was subjected to constant harassment in an attempt to silence him. El Qadi has a right, enshrined in the Algerian constitution, to express himself freely and to practice his profession. “Algeria has nothing to gain by continuing this policy of media control.” Drareni also tweeted about increasing pressure on press freedom in the Maghreb in general. He himself was sentenced to three years in prison for reporting on the Algerian protest movement, but was then released early from prison.
Radio M also commented on the arrest of its editor-in-chief. “Defending Ihsane El Kadi does not mean merely identifying with him,” reads the broadcaster’s website. “It means fighting an arbitrary act that is part of a general authoritarian regression.” Radio also launched a campaign for his release.
El Kadi plays an important journalistic role in Algeria, explains the Algerian political scientist Rachid Ouaissa, professor at the University of Marburg, in an interview with DW. “With Radio M and Maghreb Emergent, he uses the few media freedoms that still exist in Algeria.” The latest accusations are “absolutely unfounded,” says Ouaissa. “The government sees even the most factual criticism as an externally directed accusation,” comments the political scientist.
El Kadi’s arrest came against a backdrop of political unrest that has plagued the country for years. These peaked in 2019 and 2020 in the rallies of the Hirak protest movement. This was formed in early 2019 after the late President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his candidacy for the highest office in the state. Hirak made a significant contribution to Bouteflika’s resignation a few months later, in April 2019. But the political system has hardly changed, contrary to all assurances, the powers that used to rule, above all the generals, have remained in power. At the same time, the Hirak movement, which also has other concerns – combating corruption and clientelism, commitment to democracy and civil liberties – is seen by large sections of the state leadership as a direct threat to their power.
The concerns of the power apparatus are all the greater because the government has not been able to show any significant progress for the well-being of the population for years. The Algerian economy has recovered somewhat after years of a recession that was further exacerbated by the corona pandemic. According to the World Bank, gross domestic product rose again by a good three percent in 2021 due to the recovery in oil and gas production – this course continued last year when energy prices rose massively due to the Russian attack on Ukraine.
In addition, Algeria was able to position itself as a potentially important energy supplier for Europe. In the summer of 2022, the then Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron were guests in Algiers, as was EU Council President Charles Michel in September. The central topic of their talks: gas deliveries from Algeria.
However, it will probably take a while before Algeria can substantially increase its exports to Europe. According to the industry publication “Middle East Economic Survey”, in the first half of 2022 they even fell by 18 percent compared to the previous year.
For the majority of the Algerian population, this means that they can at best count on an improvement in their situation in the long term. Many Algerians are currently living under great economic pressure. The inflation rate rose to over 10 percent due to high food prices, which were made even more expensive by the war in Ukraine. It is the poorest Algerians who suffer the most: according to the World Bank, food costs account for more than half of total household expenditure for the weakest 40 percent of the population. The government can also hardly boast of any success in the field of education: According to the business information agency Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), the illiteracy rate was over 18 percent in 2022. Many young Algerians in particular are still trying to leave the country for Europe.
Against this background, the regime is taking tougher action against activists and members of the opposition, says Rachid Ouaissa: “And in view of the fact that elections will be held next year, his nervousness is increasing.” That’s why it’s becoming more and more irritable to criticism.
Journalists in particular feel this – the imprisoned Ihsane El Kadi is just one example of many. “The government has taken the protests directed against it by the Hirak movement and the corona pandemic as an opportunity to restrict press freedom even more,” the “Reporters Without Borders” (ROG) stated in a statement. “Prosecutions, arbitrary arrests and official harassment make independent journalism risky in Algeria.” In addition, many media held back with political criticism in order not to lose the advertisements that formed their economic basis.
The liberal French-language Algerian daily Liberté was forced to cease publication last April. Officially, their end goes back to a business decision by the publisher. In their farewell text, however, the editors expressed their astonishment at the decision and at the same time their concern about a return to times that they thought had been overcome. “Yesterday’s demons return with power as the spaces of modernity disappear,” the text said at the time. One can no longer speak of a free press, agrees political scientist Rachid Ouaissa. The findings of ROG are similar: In the organization’s annual ranking of the press release, Algeria is far down at rank 134 out of a total of 180 countries and regions examined.
Author: Kersten Knipp
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The original of this article “Algeria: media under increasing pressure” comes from Deutsche Welle.