"Reporters Without Borders" said Wednesday it was "dismayed" by the heavy sentence demanded on appeal against Ali Fodil and Naïla Berrahal, respectively managing editor and journalist of Algeria's Arabic-language daily Ech-Chourouk, for allegedly defaming Libyan ruler, Muammar Gaddafi.
The prosecutor at the Algiers appeal court on 21 March called for a one-year prison sentence and 500,000 dinars (5,300 euros) fine against the two journalists along with a one-year ban on the newspaper.
The libel suit against the two journalists was taken out in the name of the Libyan leader at the start of October 2006, by the Libyan representative in Algiers. It cited two articles, carried by the newspaper in August which referred to tensions in the region having been raised by Gaddafi’s involvement in discussions with the Tuareg community in Algeria.
The Libyan leader challenged the truth of the articles, which he said had personally “damaged” him, the Libyan state and the security of both Algeria and Libya.
A lower court in Hussein-Dey in the eastern Algiers suburbs sentenced the journalists on 31 October 2006 to six months in prison, fines of 20,000 dinars (220 euros) and 500,000 dinars (5,300 euros) in damages. The judge based the sentence on Article 144a of the criminal code relating to defamation of a head of state, an offence punishable by 12 months in prison. The court also ordered a two-month closure of the daily.
Ali Fodil and Naïla Berrahal appealed against the sentence, which their lawyer, Khaled Bergheul, described as “very harsh in relation to the facts”. Sentence was adjourned, allowing the journalists to remain free while awaiting the appeal. The court in Algiers is due to hand down its sentence on 4 April.