Algiers, 29 April 2022 — On 3 January 2022, Merzoug Touati was sentenced in Algeria to one year’s imprisonment for contempt of court and spreading false information. Yet his only "crime" was to have exercised his profession as a journalist by denouncing the conditions of incarceration of another prisoner, Mohamed Baba Nadjar.
As a committed journalist, Merzoug Touati addresses the socio-economic difficulties of Algerian citizens, the failure of public policies at the local and national levels, and publicly denounces the serious violations of fundamental freedoms in his country.
A human rights defender, he has already been arrested and imprisoned several times in recent years. This judicial harassment and persecution is indicative of the restriction of freedoms and the systematic repression of journalists, lawyers, and many other civil society actors in Algeria since the beginning of the Popular Hirak in February 2019.
Incarcerated in Ghardaïa prison, which is 700 km from his place of residence, Merzoug Touati began a hunger strike on 29 March 2022, which was ignored by the prison services. As the appropriate treatment protocol for hunger strikers was denied to him, the journalist finally had to be rushed to the hospital in Ghardaïa. He has since been transferred to the prison in Bouira.
The arbitrary detention of Merzoug Touati is the direct consequence of the exercise of his freedom of conscience, opinion, and expression. It is taking place in a general climate of negation of fundamental individual and collective freedoms in Algeria, particularly affecting journalists and online media. The physical and moral ill-treatment and intimidation to which Merzoug Touati is subjected are extremely worrying, and can only remind us of the death after a hunger strike of the detainees Mohamed Tamalt and Kamal Eddine Fekhar in 2016 and 2019.
The Collectif des Familles de Disparu(e)s en Algérie, together with 33 Algerian, French, and international NGOs, therefore call on the Algerian authorities, through an urgent appeal to the UN and African special mechanisms, to immediately release the Mr Touati, to stop the systematic harassment of journalists and human rights defenders, and to guarantee their ability to free work without fear of reprisals. Our organisations also express their deep concern about the increasing number of arbitrary detentions of journalists, and call on the Algerian authorities to stop these practices, thus respecting the international conventions on freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial, which have been ratified by Algeria.