TUNIS, TUNISIA – Algerian authorities have blocked a third online news website that covered the anti-government “Hirak” protest movement, stirring condemnation Monday from media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
RSF also voiced concern that a draft law on “fake news” could be used as another channel to “muzzle the press.”
The draft legislation aims to “criminalize … fake news,” which authorities say could undermine national security.
“Algeria is the country recording the largest numbers of deaths related to the coronavirus in Africa but authorities prefer to hound the free press,” said the RSF director for North Africa, Souhaieb Khayati.
Algerian authorities earlier this month shut down online media sites Maghreb Emergent and Radio M.
On Sunday, news website Interlignes was also hit by the censor’s axe and no longer accessible online, said founder Bouzid Ichalalene.
“The authorities are trying to push serious media to close and allow only the mediocre ones to exist,” Ichalalene told AFP.
There was no immediate comment from the authorities.
In July last year, Interlignes was targeted by the authorities for its coverage of the Hirak protest movement.
For more than a year, Algeria was gripped by weekly protests which started in February 2019 and led to the resignation of veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Demonstrations continued even after he stepped down in April with protesters demanding a complete overhaul of the political establishment.
But the rallies have been suspended as the authorities imposed lockdowns to try to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Algeria has declared 384 deaths and more than 2,700 confirmed cases, according to latest figures.
Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, said authorities were targeting online media outlets because they are “more active” and “escape government control.”
Salhi said the new draft law was “another turn of the screw against freedoms” in Algeria.
The bill is aimed at “legalizing the campaign of repression which for months has targeted activists of the Hirak movement, journalists and human rights defenders,” Salhi said.
RSF said it fears that the draft legislation will become a “tool” in the hands of the authorities to “muzzle the press.”
At least two journalists are behind bars in Algeria, including Khaled Drareni, correspondent of French channel TV5 Monde and RSF.