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After serving a 14-month prison sentence on various charges, Algerian journalist Mustapha Bendjama assumed his life would return to normal as the editor-in-chief of Le Provincial, a local independent news site in the eastern city of Constantine. 

“I was wrong,” said Bendjama, who was released April 2024. 

In a phone interview with CPJ, Bendjama revealed that his contract at Le Provincial has not been renewed after eight years with the outlet. According to Bendjama, his employers cited orders from “high up” in their decision to terminate his employment, but the journalist believes government officials are behind ongoing efforts to censor critical voices like his in the country. 

CPJ’s emails to Le Provincial requesting comment about the reason of letting Bendjama go did not receive any replies. 

“It’s been exactly five years that they have been targeting me,” he said.

Since the start of the February 2019 anti-government Hirak protests which ousted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Bendjama has been arrested on multiple occasions, repeatedly summoned for questioning about his work, and banned from traveling outside of Algeria. After Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected in 2019, Bendjama said authorities stepped up their targeting of him, culminating in his imprisonment in February 2023.

Journalism is more than Bendjama’s sole source of income — the practice is also his passion. Now hoping to restart his career, Bendjama says the future of his profession is unclear in a country where press freedom continues to decline due to the current regime’s continuous censorship and fear of another uprising against them.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. CPJ’s emails to the Algerian ministry of interior requesting comment on Bendjama’s prosecution did not receive any replies. 

How did the Hirak protests mark a turning point in Algeria’s press freedom?

Since the beginning of Hirak [in 2019], and the election of Tebboune, the government launched waves of arrests against independent and critical journalists, including Khaled Drareni, Sofiane Merakchi, Moncef Aït Kaci, and many more. I too was briefly arrested many times in that period before my imprisonment [in February 2023].

How did these arrests and harassment affect your ability to do your work?

On Friday June 28, 2019, I was violently arrested and physically attacked by police officers before being released several hours later. I have been arrested many times since then and always on Friday, the day of the weekly Hirak demonstrations. To stop me from covering the demonstrations or speaking to other journalists, I was often detained for several hours and released at night. 

The impact this has had on my ability to do my job was real. I spent most of my time in police stations and courts instead of being in my editorial office or in the field. I hardly had time to do careful work. They [authorities] did what they wanted. Hit me where it hurts. They are trying to stop me from practicing journalism, and by associating me with trials and crimes I never committed, my sources have become afraid to speak to me. Not to mention the fact that no media outlet is willing to recruit me anymore, for fear of suffering the same fate as Interface Média.

Algerian authorities brought multiple legal cases against you. How were they connected with your work as a journalist?

In the first case, they charged me with allegedly helping journalist Amira Bouraoui flee to France and founding a criminal organization. I have never met Amira, so even though all the evidence was in my favor, the court convicted me regardless. The other case was more dangerous. They convicted me on charges similar to those that were used to convict journalist Ihsane el-Kadi, including receiving foreign funding harmful to national interest and dissemination of classified information with the attempt to harm state institutions, espionage, and belonging to a terrorist group. All these charges were given to me after they illegally opened my smartphone, which they had confiscated following my arrest in the first case. They found communications with someone who works for an NGO called Global Integrity. I had submitted a report on democracy and transparency in Algeria to this group as a freelancer. 

For the other charges regarding the dissemination of classified information, they stem from an article I wrote for Le Provincial on corruption that I shared with Algerian journalist Abdou Semmar, who self-exiled in France and was sentenced to death in absentia after being convicted of spreading false news. He wanted to make a video about the article for his website. The information I shared with him was not classified, as opposed to my conversation with him, which was private. It feels like the Amira Bouraoui case was a trap to get to me first and then add whatever charges they wanted later to keep me in prison. 

Now that you’ve been released, are you still being targeted for your work? 

I am still not allowed to travel outside of the country, and this is illegal because I was unconditionally released from prison after finishing my entire sentence. I tried to travel to Tunisia in May, and they told me at the border that I am not allowed to leave Algeria. The only travel ban order I received was in November 2019, after a court accused me of attacking national interest because I shared a news report on Facebook that leaked information from a police investigation about me. This travel ban order was valid for three months, with the possibility of renewal only one time. Since I was acquitted in this case a while ago, these measures against me are arbitrary and just unfair.

How does losing your role at Le Provincial change the protections you have as a journalist in the country?

I have been finding it difficult to work in the field of journalism ever since I was let go of my job. As a staffer I was somewhat protected under the press code, and through my employer, to carry my investigations and research as a journalist. However, without my job in a news outlet, the government does not officially consider me a journalist, and therefore can prosecute me as a civilian and I can then get heavier sentences. So any work I do in the future as a freelancer might lead to heavy criminal charges. 

Right after my release from prison, I was also targeted by a police officer who was intimidating me on the street. I was coming out of a bar and was on the phone with a friend, and this officer stops me in the middle of the street and starts asking me questions about the phone conversation I was having with my friend. He threatened to arrest me but when he saw that people started to gather around us, and I insisted on not answering his questions, he let me go.

What is the state of independent journalism in Algeria now?

Currently, we can say that there is no form of press freedom in this country. Since Tebboune came to power, his administration has been intimidating most independent news outlets that are critical of the government, by either blocking them, or arresting their journalists. This is to make sure that only pro-government voices exist in Algeria. They can’t close 10 outlets at once. This has been happening over a couple of years so to not attract attention. And they have succeeded.

Source of original article: Middle East & North Africa Archives – Committee to Protect Journalists (
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