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In Defense of Algerian Journalists

Last June marked the second anniversary of the death of novelist and editor Tahar Djaout, the first of more than forty Algerian journalists who have been murdered over the past two years. The intent of this brutal assassination campaign is to eliminate what remains of the country’s independent press. The Armed Islamic Group has claimed responsibility for many of these murders, warning: “Those who fight with the pen shall die by the sword.”

Algeria’s military rulers have compounded the pressures on the Algerian press by closing Islamist publications, censoring coverage of the rebellion and using the media as its own propaganda outlet. Insurgent terrorism and government repression are depriving the Algerian people of their right to independent viewpoints and objective information about the conflict.

With international pressure increasing for a negotiated solution to the Algerian conflict, it is essential that all parties who wish to participate in any such process condemn the killings of journalists and oppose the suppression of independent or opposition news coverage and commentary.

Today, in honor of the memory of Tahar Djaout and his slain colleagues, we respectfully call on all parties to the Algerian conflict to:

1) cease immediately all attacks, harassment, intimidation, manipulation, and censorship of Algerian journalists;

2) recognize the status of journalists as civilian noncombatants;

3) denounce all new attacks and acts of censorship against the press;

4) support the restoration of press freedom as an essential component of any solution to the crisis.

As organizations devoted to the defense of freedom of expression in all countries of the world, we take no position whatsoever on the political and military conflict in Algeria. Only the Algerian people themselves can resolve this crisis. Yet it should be understood that any political organization or faction that fails to condemn this campaign of terror against the press is in effect condoning these indefensible tactics and deserves international condemnation. Similarly, the failure to condemn military repression of the media will and should be interpreted as countenancing such unacceptable censorship.

The undersigned press freedom and freedom of expression organizations take this occasion to remind all parties to the conflict in Algeria that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the Algerian people the absolute right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” and the right to “freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” We ask you to join us in our call for the immediate restoration of these rights for all Algerians, regardless of their profession, ideology, religious beliefs or political affiliation. The killings must stop. Official intimidation of the press must also stop. Our Algerian colleagues are only asking that they be allowed to do their jobs—to report the news—without fear of censorship or violent reprisal. They deserve our support.

Alliance of Independent Journalists
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Article 19, International Centre Against Censorship
Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists
Free Media Movement
Human Rights Watch
Free Expression Project
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Newspaper Publishers
International Press Institute
Journalist Safety Service/Dutch Union of Journalists
Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression
Overseas Press Club of America
PEN American Center
Reporters Sans Frontieres
World Press Freedom Committee

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