Algerian Bloggers Feel Threatened by Proposed Law

nytlogo379x64.gifAprès El Mundu, c’est le journal The New York Times qui consacre un article à la blogosphère algérienne et en particulier au blog « Algérie politique ».




Published: September 21, 2009


By day, he writes for a pro-government newspaper. After work, he becomes El Mouhtarem, author of one of the most popular political blogs in Algeria. Until now, El Mouhtarem, who keeps his real name secret to avoid retaliation by the authorities, and his readers have been free to comment on issues that few in the mainstream Algerian media would touch. While he has received anonymous death threats, there have been no attempts by the government to censor his blog, “Algérie-politique.”A measure likely to be approved this month or in October, however, would bring Internet users under closer scrutiny, and bloggers like El Mouhtarem are nervous. The measure ostensibly aims at cyberterrorism and cybercrime, but critics say that it is vague and could be used to muzzle free speech.
“They’ve realized that the Internet could be used as a tool for social dissent,” El Mouhtarem said.


The proposed law allows for the surveillance of Internet users suspected of terrorist or “subversive” activities, or for breaching national security. Authorization for the surveillance must come from the “relevant judicial authorities,” according to the proposal.


It also calls for the creation of an Internet police force charged with investigating online criminal and terrorist activities.


Bloggers like El Mouhtarem are not yet perceived as a serious threat to the Algerian government, partly because the country has so few Internet users. But in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, none of which have Internet-specific legislation, existing laws have been used to prosecute Internet users for offenses like creating a phony Facebook profile in the name of the king or for forwarding political messages.


And countries in North Africa and the Middle East are beginning to introduce Internet-specific laws. In 2006, the United Arab Emirates became the first to pass legislation focusing on cybercrime and cyberterrorism, and Saudi Arabia followed in 2008. A similar law is under consideration in Iraq.


Helmi Noman, a researcher for the OpenNet Initiative, an academic group that studies Internet filtering and surveillance, said these new laws were a response to emerging problems like hacking, privacy and the use of the Internet for terrorism.


“Countries are doing this because there is a legal vacuum concerning new challenges associated with the use of the Internet,” Mr. Noman said.


The proposal in Algeria comes after “strong online mobilization” for a protest late last year against a change to the Constitution that allowed a president to serve three terms instead of two, said Soazig Dollet, a North Africa specialist for Reporters Without Borders.


This allowed the ailing president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to run for another term, which he won. Many opposition parties boycotted the election in protest.


“Perhaps the controversy around the re-election of Bouteflika pushed the authorities to create this law,” Ms. Dollet said.


The Algerian blogosphere was much less dynamic or critical than its counterparts in Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt, Ms. Dollet added, and there was nothing comparable to the online networks used by Iranian protesters in recent months.


“I don’t believe that the Algerian authorities today are threatened by the Algerian street,” she said.


Algérie-politique is one of the local blogs with the most followers. It averages 3,500 to 5,000 visits a day, El Mouhtarem said, and the blog has received 1.45 million visits since it was introduced in May 2007. He said he was about to open a new site that would allow more interaction with his public.


For El Mouhtarem and other frustrated journalists, the Web offers a rare chance to speak openly, something his day job does not allow.


“I work as a journalist for convenience, not conviction,” El Mouhtarem said. “The mission to inform doesn’t exist in this country.”


Algeria has many private newspapers that publish a range of perspectives. Yet most depend on the government for printing, distribution and advertising. The authorities are aggressive in pursuing defamation and other charges against journalists. Television and radio remain under government control.
A factor hindering more vibrant online communities is the underdevelopment of the country’s Internet services. The OpenNet Initiative says that just 10.3 percent of Algerians use the Internet, despite the country’s youthful demographics. That figure compares with 32.6 percent of Moroccans and 26.8 percent of Tunisians.


High-speed, third-generation networks, which have taken off in Morocco and Egypt, have yet to be introduced to Algeria.


The Algerian proposal passed unanimously in the lower house of Parliament in July and awaits a vote by the upper house. It is widely expected to pass.


Sharif ben Mehrez, head of information technology and communication at the Algerian Ministry of Post, Information and Communication Technologies, said the proposal was part of a five-year plan to convert Algeria into an information-based society.


“Establishing the legal environment for a knowledge society is essential,” Mr. Ben Mehrez said.


Algerian media have reported a rise in online criminal activity. And Mr. Noman, of OpenNet, said that despite being few in number, forums that promote the use of violence in the name of Islam are “certainly a potential threat as many of them tried to lure young people to terrorism.”


Before the April 9 presidential election, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights condemned what it called the “total lack of critical debate” in the national media on the proposal.


Three French weeklies running articles critical of the government and the circumstances surrounding the election were pulled from the shelves in Algeria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nongovernmental, international organization that monitors journalists’ rights.


On Facebook, it was a different story. One group called for a boycott of the April election and many others condemned the changes to the Constitution. A group declaring “no to the constitutionalization of authoritarianism!” has nearly 3,000 members.


In Algeria, unlike in other countries in the region, OpenNet has found no evidence of consistent technical filtering.


But a 1998 law holds Internet service providers responsible for permitting users to post material considered contrary to public order or morality. Security forces have increased surveillance of Internet cafes since 2007, according to OpenNet. And a blogger, Abd el Salam Baroudy, was charged with criminal defamation for criticizing an official in 2007.


El Mouhtarem has blogged freely so far. He said that he would like to reveal his identity, but that doing so could mean facing prosecution.


“If I gave them the opportunity, they would take action,” he said.


Ali Kahlane, president of Satlinker, an Algerian Internet service provider, said he had never seen proof of censorship or filtering of the Web by the authorities during his years in the information technology industry.


“This doesn’t mean that people don’t censor themselves,” he added.


  1. kaci-la-merveille dit :

    Hi everybody except les crapules du DRS!

    La lecture de cet article renseigne sur l’étendue du retard Algérien, même par rapport à nos frères de l’ouest.
    Il semble donc qu’une monarchie moyenâgeuse semble « scorer » mieux qu’une gérontocratie d’obédience militaro-mafieuse. Pour le moins quand il s’agit du développement de l’Internet et des nouvelles technologies.
    On y apprend par ailleurs que même les oppositions politiques de nos voisins sont plus vigoureuse et plus dynamique dans la blogosphère; va savoir pourquoi!? Ya peut etre trop de beni-oui-oui chez nous!
    Il semble aussi qu’une loi pour « nous ficher », nous autres blogueurs, est en passe d’être votée par leur « sénat », après avoir passé à l’unanimité SVP, l’ « éceuil » de l’assemblée des pantins pique-assiettes!
    En tout les cas, ana men aandi, « Dezou maahoum »!!

    Anyway my congratulations to the Author/Admin of this blog, El mouhtarem, for having reached such an audience as to be cited by the NYT. Avis aux amateurs!

    Kaci la merveille

  2. Abdelmoumene Jazairi dit :

    En un mot, « Bravo »!

  3. zahirus dit :

    Congratulations and hat off! El Mohtaram!
    This informative and subversive blog must be a thorn in the flesh of the Algerian authorities!
    May all the success of the world come across your way!

  4. Arzuz dit :

    Encore une fois bravo et félicitations pour le travail que tu accomplis tous les jours.

Laisser un commentaire

FRONT NATIONAL - Bouches-du... |
Mouvement des Jeunes Social... |
15ème circonscription du No... | | Annuaire | Signaler un abus | Sagvar, le Roman Noir de la...
| Sarkophage
| UES - Claude WEBER