The name of Amira Bouraoui has cast a cloud over the good relations between France and Algeria. The plane carrying the French-Algerian journalist and activist landed in Paris this week from Tunis. There, she had spent three days in provisional detention awaiting trial for having illegally crossed the border into Algeria, from where she had fled for fear of arrest in the midst of a campaign of persecution against the independent press, which has seen the arrests of two prominent independent journalists, Ihsane El Kadi and Saad Bouakaba.
Bouraoui, a fierce opponent of the Algerian regime, was finally released after testifying in court. The magistrate decided to postpone her case until 23 February, but, according to her defence, two agents immediately took her away from the magistrate's office. The deportation to Algeria was still on the table, but the protection of the French diplomatic corps stopped the measure in extremis. Pressure from Paris on President Kais Saïed and the rest of the administration bore fruit.
First, the journalist was transferred to the French embassy in Tunis. Then, they wrested from Saïed the authorisation to allow him to take the flight to Paris. His lawyer, Hashem Badra, later explained to the daily Le Monde that Bouraoui's fate hung in the balance during those hours. "I am more than satisfied with this happy outcome, which I had stopped believing in", the Tunisian lawyer acknowledged, telling the media that he is "free and in good health". The intervention of the French state has tipped the balance.
It is not the first time that Amira Bouraoui's name has come to the fore. The 46-year-old gynaecologist, a self-described "indignant citizen and daughter of a high-ranking army officer", became known in opposition circles to the regime of the late Abdelaziz Bouteflika on the social network Facebook. Along with other dissident profiles, he led the Barakat (Basta, in English) movement, a social protest that erupted in opposition to a fourth presidential term for Bouteflika.
Bouraoui was active in the Hirak (Movement) protests, which erupted four years ago to force Bouteflika's resignation to run for a fifth term. Although she served months in prison after being convicted on several charges, including "offending" Islam for her Facebook posts. She was released in July 2020, but under a ban on leaving the country. She tried, however, several times to visit her son, who lives in France. But without success. Since September, she has been presenting a weekly political programme on the private radio station Radio M, whose director is Ihsane El Kadi.
The journalist has dual nationality. It was precisely this that enabled her to slip under the radar of the Algerian authorities and avoid deportation in Tunisia. France's intervention was decisive in preventing Bouraoui from following in the footsteps of some of his colleagues who are facing long prison sentences in Algeria because of the serious legal proceedings brought by the regime against the independent press.