Merzoug Touati, an Algerian blogger, has been held behind bars in El Khemis prison since January 18, 2017, for conducting a video interview with a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The interview was posted on Youtube on January 9 and shared on his blog Alhogra. The local police has reportedly confiscated the blogger’s computer and camera.
Touati is facing charges under the suspicion of ‘talking to the agents of a foreign power and complicity liable to harm Algeria’s diplomatic situation’, prohibited by article 71-3 of Algeria’s Penal Code, which are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Touati is also facing an additional charge under article 100 for ‘incitement to armed protests against the State’, which is punishable by up to 5 years in prison that might be added to his sentence if convicted.
According to Global Voices, the video interview was conducted on Skype with Hassan Kaabia, the Israeli foreign ministry’s spokesperson for Arabic-speaking media. The interview focused on global financial issues and the ways that they have affected Algeria.
Only a couple of months ago, Mohamed Tamalt, a 42-year-old British-Algerian blogger and journalist, died in Bab el-Oued hospital after 3 months of a hunger strike in protest against his imprisonment. Tamalt was convicted on July 11, 2016, with ‘offending the president’ and ‘defaming a public authority’ and sentenced to 2 years in prison over sharing a video on Facebook featuring a poem, allegedly offensive towards the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
According to the Freedom House’s 2016 Freedom in the world report, Algeria is marked as ‘Not Free’. The press freedom in the state is also marked as not free. Cybercrime law, issued in 2009, gives authorities the right to block websites ‘contrary to the public order or decency’, while a centralized system monitors internet traffic. Bloggers and journalists are being pressured into self censorship by the threat of criminal defamation laws.