Background Briefing

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Fine and suspended prison term for “insulting” foreign head of state

A satirical article and cartoon about Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika earned al-Mash`al a 100,000 DH fine and a one-year suspended sentence for the publication’s director, Driss Chahtane.

On October 20, 2005, a court of first instance ruled that al-Mash`al’s May 2005 column about Bouteflika’s adventures as a young man while living in Oujda, Morocco, and the accompanying cartoon – which depicted the Algerian president in boxer shorts with his pants around his ankles – constituted an offense to his dignity and convicted the weekly under the Press Code’s Article 52. That article states, “An insult that is perpetrated publicly against the person or the dignity of heads of state, prime ministers, foreign affairs ministers of foreign countries, shall be punished by imprisonment from one month to one year, and a fine of 10,000 DH to 100,000 DH, or one of these two punishments.”

Al-Mash`al’s lawyers charged that the trial was unfair because the court had refused demands by the defense to examine the complaint against the article supposedly filed by President Bouteflika or on his behalf. According to Article 71 of the Press Code, a case under Article 52 is initiated “upon the request of the offended party, or on his behalf and in response to his request, by the prime minister or foreign minister.” The case file contained no such complaint from President Bouteflika or other Algerian officials, Mohamed Tarek Sba’i, a lawyer for al-Mash`al, told Human Rights Watch on April 25, 2006.


Al-Mash`al appealed the conviction and the Appeals Court is expected to issue its ruling on May 9.

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