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Algeria’s upper house of parliament passed a new media law this week that officials described as a victory for the country’s journalists, a move that comes amid ongoing concerns about press freedoms during President Abdelmajid Tebboune’s initial term in office, the Associated Press reported.
The new legislation will repeal the North African country’s “press offense” law that was previously used as a pretext to silence and imprison journalists critical of the government.
It will enshrine new protections for journalists to ensure they do not face arrest or imprisonment for doing their jobs. The bill’s author, Minister of Communications Mohamed Laagab, called it “the best law in the history of independent Algeria regarding the journalism industry.”
Many journalists welcomed the legislation, but others questioned its timing and expressed caution.
Retired journalist and activist Ahmed Khezzana suggested that the new law came a year before Algeria’s presidential elections, when Tebboune is expected to run for reelection.
The discussion around repealing Algeria’s “press offense” law has gone on in parliament for more than a decade.
Lawmakers first enshrined it into national law in 2011, but it was temporarily suspended as the government continued to prosecute dissenting journalists, especially during the 2019 mass protests that resulted in the removal of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Still, observers noted that two prominent journalists remain imprisoned and the laws that authorities have used to prosecute journalists – including one banning foreign funding for media outlets – remain on the books.
One of the imprisoned journalists is Ihsane El Kadi, the owner of a media company, who was jailed on charges related to threatening state security and taking foreign funds for his outlets. His lawyer said the new legislation will not affect El Kadi’s seven-year sentence that was handed down in April.