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Such prosecutions and other pressures have significantly curbed press freedom in Algeria compared to seven years ago, when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was first elected. Director of the Algiers-based French-language daily Le Matin, Benchicou served the full two years in prison to which an Algiers court sentenced him on a currency offense. Before his conviction in JuneBenchicou and his newspaper had virulently criticized Bouteflika and other ministers in his government.
In February of that year, two months before Bouteflika was elected to a second term, Benchicou published a biography entitled Bouteflika, an Algerian Fraud.
Bouteflika : Une imposture algérienne by Mohamed Benchicou
At least 10 libel complaints against him are making their way through the courts, including some filed by, or on behalf of, public officials and institutions for articles published in Le Matin. Inthe government enacted amendments to the penal code stiffening punishments for verbal attacks on benchcou officials.
One provision specifically criminalized words or images deemed insulting or defamatory toward the president, punishing offenders llvre up to 12 months in prison and a fine.
Another provision provides the same penalties for insults and defamation directed at parliament, the justice system, the army or any other state body or public institution. The criminal case for which Benchicou served two years in prison centered on his failure to declare to customs authorities certificates of deposit bons de caisse that he was carrying bendhicou him when he returned from abroad on August 23, The agents photocopied and then returned the certificates.
Algeria: Press Freedom at Risk Despite Release of Editor
They let Benchicou go without informing him that he had broken any laws, or presenting him with a report to sign, or advising him to declare the certificates to customs authorities. Benchicou then proceeded through customs without declaring the certificates.
On June 14,the Criminal Court of El-Harrach tried livee convicted Benchicou of having violated laws regulating the movement of funds, on the grounds that his certificates of deposit constituted a form of capital that the law required him to declare to customs authorities.
The judge sentenced him to two years in prison and a fine of ebnchicou million dinars U. Higher courts later confirmed the conviction while increasing the amount of the fine.
The defense asserted that becnhicou was the first time ever in Algeria that the non-declaration of certificates of deposit had been prosecuted as a violation of regulations on the flow of funds. Benchicou was unaware that he was violating any law, and even the border police who found the certificates on him did not respond as if he had done so, the defense said.
During his two years in al-Harrach prison, Benchicou has continued to shuttle to court to answer to outstanding defamation charges against him, both for what he himself had written and in his capacity as director of Le Matin.
On June 7 he appeared in court to respond to a complaint filed by the minister of energy and mines, Chekib Khelil, over articles in Le Matin linking the minister to questionable real estate deals. The hearing was postponed until July Benchicou hopes to recover his passport upon his release.
It was confiscated inwhen the court opened its criminal investigation against him. There would be no legal justification for withholding it now. Access to state-owned printers is one of the indirect benhcicou that authorities provide to much of the print media. Pour la reconnaissance des crimes de la colonisation: Putsch, assassinat de M. Hocine Ait Ahmed sur Ali Mecili:
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