Algeria court fines rights activist over Bouteflika satirical pictures

Friday 18/03/2016
Is Algeria growing more hostile to freedom of speech?

ALGIERS - An Algerian court has fined a human rights activist accused of undermining President Abdelaziz Bouteflika by posting satirical online pictures of the head of state, her lawyer said Monday.

Zoulikha Belarbi irked authorities after posting on her Facebook page a photomontage showing pictures of Bouteflika and senior aides pasted over the stars of popular Turkish TV series "Harim Al Sultan" (the harem of the sultan).

Her lawyer Salah Debouz said that on Sunday a court in Tlemcen, west of Algiers, "sentenced her to pay 100,000 dinars (around $1,000) for undermining the president of the republic".

Debouz, who is also president of the Algerian League of Human Rights, said his client will file an appeal on Tuesday.

The Tlemcen court was not immediately available to confirm or deny the sentencing.

The prosecutor decided to put Belarbi on trial on three chief accusations, including defamation, and had initially sought a three-month suspended sentence plus a fine, the lawyer said.

"The police have no right to read the (Facebook) pages of citizens. They need judicial authorisation to do so, otherwise it is... a violation of the constitution which guarantees the right to privacy," he said.

Belarbi had, according to her lawyer, said the photomontage was not "degrading" but her right to free speech.