The basis for convicting Bouras for unlawfully practicing a profession regulated by the law is not known. The three people Bouras interviewed were prosecuted on the same charges and sentenced to one year in prison.
Authorities had arrested Bouras previously, on October 2, 2015, and sentenced him to two years in prison for charges that include defamation. He was released on January 18, 2016.
Numerous provisions of the Algerian penal code provide prison terms for peaceful expression. Article 50 of Algeria’s constitution, as revised on March 7, 2016, guarantees the right to freedom of expression. It states that “press offenses cannot be punished by prison.” However, the impact of this new constitutional provision is unclear since the penal code contains many offenses for nonviolent speech that provide for prison terms, including the ones for which the court convicted Bouras.
The UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Algeria is a party has said that it is essential not to subject comment on public issues to censorship or restraint. It has also said that all public figures are legitimately subject to public criticism, and that there should be no prohibition of criticism of public institutions. Further, defamation should in principle be treated as a civil, not a criminal, matter and never punished with a prison term.
The committee has also stated, with respect to regulating the profession, “journalism is a function shared by a wide range of actors, including professional full-time reporters and analysts, as well as bloggers and others who engage in forms of self-publication in print, on the internet or elsewhere, and general State systems of registration or licensing of journalists are incompatible with paragraph 3 [of ICCPR’s Article 19, specifying permissible restrictions on freedom of expression]. Limited accreditation schemes are permissible only where necessary to provide journalists with privileged access to certain places and/or events.”
In a resolution on Algeria passed on April 28, 2015, the European Parliament noted the increasing government harassment of human rights activists and expressed concern about the “abuse of the judiciary as a tool to stifle dissent in the country.” It urged the Algerian authorities to strictly uphold the independence of the judiciary and to effectively guarantee the right to a fair trial, in line with the Algerian Constitution and international legal standards.