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Full guarantee of the right to freedom of expression essential as Algeria embarks on political reforms”, states UN expert

19 April 2011

ALGIERS – From 10 to 17 April 2011, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, carried out a visit to Algeria to undertake a full assessment of the situation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the country.*

“This visit has been very timely given the growing demand of the people for more openness and the full guarantee of their right to freedom of expression, as well as the expressed desire of the Government to embark on a new process of political change, including constitutional reforms,” said La Rue.

The Special Rapporteur noted that Algeria has come a long way since the 1990s, during which 100 journalists were killed. Today, journalists no longer fear for their lives while performing their work. “Nevertheless, journalists face a number of challenges and legal intimidation that impede their important work”, La Rue said.

In the past, several journalists, in particular those focusing on corruption, had been charged with defamation and sentenced to imprisonment, although in most instances the sentence was not executed. “This clearly constitutes intimidation of the press, which has a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression by generating an attitude of self-censorship among journalists,” said the Special Rapporteur, who also urged the Government to decriminalize defamation as a matter of priority. “Defamation should never be used to stifle criticism of State institutions and policies,” he added. “In this regard, I strongly welcome the announcement by the President to decriminalize press offences”.

He also welcomed the recent lifting of the state of emergency which has been in place since 1992. “This is certainly a positive sign. However, I caution that the existing legal framework is still restrictive with regard to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, La Rue said.

While noting that the written press has opened up in the early 1990s, La Rue pointed out that the television and radio sectors are still under the control of the Government. He also took note of reports that national television and radio stations did not provide fair and balanced coverage of the recent protests in the country, and that they do not grant sufficient access to opposition parties and critical NGOs.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the work of the Ministry of Posts, and Information and Communication Technologies to provide increased Internet access to 8 million users through libraries and public Internet centres. However, he noted that Facebook had become inaccessible for a short period during the recent events in neighbouring countries.

“I would like to reiterate the importance of fully guaranteeing the right of all individuals to freedom of opinion and expression, and access to information, which are essential in a truly democratic society”, La Rue said.

“The logic of the past can no longer be used to ignore the expectations of the youth and to limit their freedoms. People from all walks of life, in particular the youth, are now demanding their rights, including the right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly, and basic economic, social and cultural rights, such as job opportunities. The Government should listen to such voices,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.

ENDS

(*) For the full end-of-mission statement, please see: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10946&LangID=E
For further information on the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/index.htm
OHCHR Country Page – Algeria: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/DZIndex.aspx
For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Guillaume Pfeifflé (Tel: +41 797 520 485 / email: gpfeiffle@ohchr.org)