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Algeria: Blogger detained for posting photos to Facebook should be released

Amnesty is calling for the Algerian authorities to release a blogger held for posting photos and caricatures of president and the prime minister to Facebook and for supposedly “praising terrorism”.

‘Using terrorism-related charges to detain someone for sharing images on social media sites sets a very dangerous precedent’ - Philip Luther

Abdelghani Aloui, 24, was arrested on 15 September and ten days later charged with insulting the president and public institutions, and with “praising terrorism”, apparently in relation to a scarf the security forces found in his home bearing the Islamic creed “La ilah illa Allah” (there is no god but God).

If convicted of “praising terrorism” he faces up to ten years’ imprisonment. He also faces a fine of up to 500,000 dinars (£3,750) for insulting the president.

Aloui is currently held in Serkadji prison in Algiers, in the same wing as terrorism suspects. The prison is more than 300 miles away from his home town, Tlemcen. On Sunday Aloui’s lawyer filed a request for his release pending trial - and a decision is expected this week.

Under Algeria’s Penal Code the offence of “praising terrorism” is worded so broadly that it can include peaceful criticism of the authorities. Changes to the code in 2011 significantly increased the level of fines in cases related to defamation, a move described by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as having “a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression”.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Philip Luther said:

“Abdelghani Aloui must be immediately released and all charges against him dropped.

“The authorities are vastly overreacting to what is nothing more than legitimate expression. 

“Using terrorism-related charges to detain someone for sharing images on social media sites sets a very dangerous precedent.

“The Algerian authorities appear to be trying to stifle criticism at a time of uncertainty ahead of presidential elections due next year.

“The Algerian authorities must reform laws that criminalise defamation and end the use of anti-terrorism legislation to restrict peaceful criticism of public officials.”

Aloui’s detention is the second detention of a blogger in little over a year. In July 2012, Saber Saidi was arrested, reportedly by the Department of Intelligence and Security, for posting videos relating to the uprisings in the Middle East. He too was charged with “praising terrorism” and kept in preventive detention for nine months until his release this April.

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