UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank LaRue on Tuesday called on Algeria [press release] to "guarantee the right to freedom of opinion and expression" including decriminalizing defamation. LaRue noted that, despite significant progress since the 1990s, which saw more than100 journalists killed, a number of challenges remain. LaRue highlighted that the television and radio sectors remain under government control and do not provide unbiased coverage. He also cautioned that the restrictive legal framework continues to impair important rights including peaceful assembly. LaRue urged continued political reform:
The logic of the past can no longer be used to ignore the expectations of the youth and to limit their freedoms. People from all walks of life, in particular the youth, are now demanding their rights, including the right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly, and basic economic, social and cultural rights, such as job opportunities. The Government should listen to such voices.LaRue did praise government efforts to provide Internet access to eight million through libraries and public centers.
Last week, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika [official profile, in French] declared an initiative for sweeping constitutional and political reforms [JURIST report] in order to increase the role of democracy in the African nation. In February, the Algerian Council of Ministers approved a draft ordinance repealing the country's 19-year state of emergency, delivering on a promise made the week before [JURIST reports] by Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci. The state of emergency gave the government power to limit political freedoms and even peaceful protests. Opponents also claimed that the state of emergency gave rise to arbitrary detentions. Algeria had been under a state of emergency since 1992 when the military canceled elections fearing a win by religious fundamentalists. The state of emergency was declared [DOS backgrounder] after it became apparent that the militant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) would win control of the government. Bouteflika came to power, winning the presidency in 1999 with 70 percent of the official vote and appearing to have the backing of the military.