Algerian lawmakers on Wednesday approved a controversial new media law that critics say will impede freedom of expression. The law restricts journalists [AFP report] from undermining Algeria's sovereignty, national identity, economy and security, providing for fines up to USD $3,900 and jail time. The law has been criticized for being vague and overbroad by groups such as the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights [advocacy website, in French]. Algerian Minister of Communication Nacer Mehal [official website, in French] defended the measure [Radio Algerienne report, in Arabic], saying it would not restrict free expression.
In April, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression Frank LaRue [official website] called on Algeria [JURIST report] 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 than 100 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. Earlier that month, 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.