Six plainclothes officers of Algeria's Directorate General of Internal Security (DGSI) arrested Ihsane El-Kadi, one of the country's most influential independent journalists and founder of Radio M and the business daily Maghreb Emergent, at midnight on Friday at his residence in Boumerdès, the eastern township of Algiers. A week after the arrest warrant was issued by the examining magistrate of the Sidi M'hamed court, El-Kadi is still being held in the premises of the powerful intelligence agency.
The Algerian judiciary has extended his detention for another two weeks, when his next court hearing is scheduled to take place. The prosecutor's office has not specified the charges against him, although the latest information suggests that El-Kadi is accused of violating articles 95, 95 bis and 96 of the Penal Code, relating to state security, illicit financing and dissemination of propaganda. A recent update of the latter article refers directly to paragraph 51, which states that the "criminal liability of the legal person does not exclude that of the natural person who is the author or accomplice to the same acts".
The offences are punishable by imprisonment of six months to five years and a fine of between 3,600 and 36,000 Algerian dinars. The authorities would also have the power to prohibit the accused from exercising one or more of the civil rights provided for in the Penal Code in the event of a final conviction. A prerogative that highlights the tightening of the Algerian legal framework on press freedom, which was reformed ad hoc in 2020 in order to tie journalists' hands.
Neither El-Kadi's lawyers nor his entourage understand what connection there could be between the charges and his journalistic work. The real motive behind his imprisonment, his family says, was reportedly a recent article in which he questioned the support of army strongman General Saïd Chengriha and the rest of the military establishment for the current president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, to prolong his stay in power with a second term.
The arrest of the well-known reporter, who has four decades of professional experience, has shocked the international community and, in particular, has aroused the solidarity of press freedom organisations. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) demanded the "immediate and unconditional" release of El-Kadi, who has uncovered some of the Algerian regime's most notorious corruption cases.
This is by no means the first time El-Kadi has been targeted by the authorities. Just six months ago, the editor of Maghreb Emergent was sentenced to six months in prison for publishing an article about a banned Islamist movement and the evolution of the Hirak (Movement) protests, a mobilisation that emerged in 2019 with the aim of overthrowing the regime of the late Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The prosecution then accused him of spreading false information that could damage national unity and reopen the wounds of the armed conflict of the 1990s between the army and Islamist militias.
He was detained for just over 24 hours and, with him, the journalist Khaled Drareni and the oppositionist Karim Tabbou were also arrested. This time, however, his detention has taken a much more worrying turn. El-Kadi had never before spent so long in police custody. He had been summoned twice before, first by the Gendarmerie and then by the DGSI itself. The defence has appealed the arrest, and the indictment chamber in Algiers is due to examine the appeal within 15 days.
Immediately after his arrest, DGSI agents raided the headquarters of the Interface Medias agency, publisher of Radio M and Maghreb Émergent. The journalist himself was taken to the offices and witnessed on the spot how the authorities seized all the computer equipment and printed documents. A day later, the site was sealed. Access was denied, but this has not prevented many of the 30 journalists on the payroll from continuing to work and publish articles on the newspaper's website in defence of its editor.
"The employees and journalists of Radio M and Maghreb Emergent are outraged by this iniquitous decision and the abusive use of preventive detention, and strongly denounce this drift, which is tantamount to a demonstrated desire to silence for good the last free space of the Algerian press," the communiqué published on Thursday said. "What is at stake, essentially democratic, is the right of citizens to information, enshrined in the Algerian constitution and in the international conventions ratified by Algeria," the statement said.
According to RSF, Ihsane El Kadi "is undoubtedly paying the price for his articles critical of the authorities and the independence of the media he directs". The measure "is the culmination of a long persecution and endless judicial harassment, the obvious aim of which is to silence one of the last Algerian media still open to free debate and criticism".
The organisation says the media landscape in Algeria has never been in such a state of disrepair. "Independent media are under pressure, journalists are regularly imprisoned or prosecuted and several websites are blocked". Harassment by the authorities has intensified especially since the outbreak of the Hirak three years ago. "The mere mention of corruption and repression of demonstrations can lead to threats and arrests of journalists," RSF said.