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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Retour sur le massacre à huis clos des journalistes algériens

by Hassane Zerrouky

Slaughter Behind Closed Doors: Algerian Journalists In the 90’s

Translated Saturday 7 February 2015, by Isabelle Métral

For Algerian journalists, the Charlie Hebdo killings have revived painful memories of the 123 journalists and press employees assassinated between 1993 and 1997 –a gloomy time for a people that paid with their blood for the onset of Islamist terror.

It all started in early January, 1993. Minbar al-Djoumou’â, the Islamic Salvation Front’s paper gave journalists forty days to “repent”. The injunction was followed by the publication of a first list of journalists under a death sentence. Mohamed Benchicou, Ghania Hamadou, Said Mekbel, Hassane Zerrouky, Ali Dilem, who worked for le Matin. Omar Belhouchet, Tayeb Belghiche, Omar Berbiche, M. Messaoudi, who worked for El Watan. Abdelhamid Benzine, Halim Mokdad, Mortada Zabouri, who worked for Alger républicain. Ruptures’ Tahar Djaout.La Liberté’s Ghania Khelifi. The threat was relayed by Wafa, the FIS’ clandestine radio channel. On January 14th, the FIS extended its injuction to all journalists. Threats came over the phone to editorial offices, preceded by a Kuran verse, or in writing. To be sure, already in 1990-1991 the FIS-owned El Mounquid and El Forkane had promised to hang "Judeo-Zionist” journalists when the FIS got into office. Its leader, Abassi Madani, accused them of being the puppets of “communists” and “intelligence” agents.

Yet for all this nobody then thought that the Islamists would deliver on their promises, so incredible did they seem, especially as the freedom of the press had been snatched only two years before following a popular uprising.

“Journalists who wage war on Islam with their pens will perish by our swords.”

On April 18th, 1993 Tahar Djaout, a thirty-year-old reporter and writer, who denounced the collusion between Islamism and the FLN’s and the régime’s conservative clans, was shot twice in the head, the first of a long list of planned murders. A week earlier, Omar Belhouchet (also thirty-nine years old), miraculously escaped death. Nine reporters, among whom Abderrahmane Chergou (a former communist guerilla fighter during the Algerian independence war, were murdered between June and December 1993. The murders were legitimized by the Algerian Islamist Group (GIA), Mourad Si Ahmed, alias Djamel Al Afghani, the author of this terrible sentence: “Journalists who wage war on Islam with their pens will perish by our swords.”

Despite the deep shock and real fear. Algerian journalists put up a brave front. Theirs was a clandestine life, or almost. They continued to challenge the official censors and official attempts against the freedom of the press, and to do their job … all the while wondering “who would be next.” In the course of 1994, no fewer than 23 journalists and two press assistants were killed, among whom le Matin’s chronicler Said Mekbel.On the 23rd of March of that year, three armed Islamists broke into the l’Hebdo libéré’s offices, in Algiers’ city centre, and coldly executed two reporters and an employee. The following year, in 1995, 22 other journalists were murdered, three of whom worked for le Matin, Ameur Ouagueni (aged 34),Naima Hamouda (aged 28), and Said Tazrout (aged 35). On September 13th and October 30th booby-trapped cars that were defused just in time targeted le Matin’s offices. Following these attempts, the paper moved to the city centre, into Tahar Djaout’s house, where most papers have their headquarters. But on February 11th, 1996, the building was in its turn the target of a similar attempt: several dozen people were killed, among whom three Soir d’Algérie reporters.

All in all, between June 1993 and December 1997, 123 journalist and press employees were either shot to death or beheaded. A slaughter behind closed doors. For outside l’Humanité, Marianne, and the CGT’s Reporters National Union, there was no mark of solidarity on the part of our fellow journalists in France. Or hardly any, as Omar Belhouchet observed in the December 23rd issue of Jeune Afrique. Reporters sans frontières, his leader at the time was the notorious Robert Ménard, and a few papers too, insidiously put the blame for the murders on the Algerian intelligence service, which they accused of manipulating the Islamist groups! Worse still, by way of exonerating themselves, they spoke of “the dirty war” and suggested that behind every Algerian journalist stood a “cop”, and so justified beforehand the murders to come.

And yet these murders had been claimed by the Islamists on their press organs (Minbar al-Djoumou’â, Feth el Moubine, al-Ansar, Etbeira), but also by their leaders like Anouar Haddam, Omar Chikhi (whom has since been granted an amnesty by the régime), and by FIDA (Islamist Front for Armed Jihad), a group controlled by the GIA, whose specialty it was to murder journalists, liberal activists, and intellectuals.

Despite the heavy tribute paid by the profession, the Algerian government has not given up its ambition to make the press toe the line. And as was obvious last December with the case of the journalist and writer Kamel Daoud, Islamists are still issuing death threats.

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - 13:30

To the list of supporters Hassane Zerrouky might have added the Club de la Presse du Nord- Pas de Calais, which – among other initiatives - invited a delegation of Algerian journalists on December 16th, 1993. The Algerian journalists attended a debate at the École Supérieure de journalisme in Lille with Mustapha Kaïd (Alger Républicain), Jean-François Téaldi (CGT-SNJ), Nadja Bouzeghrane (El Watan), Nasser Belhadjoudja (Le Soir) who represented the Association of Algerian Journalists (AJA), Hassan Zerrouki and Ghania Hammadou (Le Matin). Philippe Alienne, president of the Club de la presse, even set up a press agency in order to enable Algerian journalists to be granted a status in France. I doubt there were other initiatives as elaborate as this in support of the Agerian journalists at the time.

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