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Algeria blogger given 10 years in prison over posts

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An Algerian blogger was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he was found guilty on Thursday of providing intelligence to “agents of a foreign power”, his lawyer said.

The criminal court in Bejaia, east of Algiers, found 30-year-old Merzoug Touati guilty of providing “intelligence to agents of a foreign power likely to harm Algeria’s military or diplomatic position or its essential economic interests”, Boubakeur Esseddik Hamaili told AFP.

The court, however, dropped charges of incitement against the state and two other alleged offences connected to Touati’s Facebook posts.

Touati was arrested in January 2017 after he called for protests against a new financial law on his Facebook page and posted a video interview with an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman.

Hamaili, who had asked for an acquital, said he would meet his client on Sunday to determine if he wanted to appeal.

“Merzoug Touati is a blogger who has only exercised his rights guaranteed by the constitution. He is free to talk with whomever he wants, and to say whatever he wants,” he said.

The prosecutors office in Bejaia could not be reached for comment.

After attending the hearing, Said Salhi of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights called it a “one-sided trial”.

“There were no defence witnesses, the witnesses cited by the defence, we did not see them,” he told AFP by telephone.

Salhi said Touati looked “truly shattered” by the verdict, adding he was visibly thin and weak.

The blogger has undergone seven hunger strikes since his arrest, according to Salhi.

Touati, who has held only odd jobs since graduating from university, “has never held a position… giving him access to information he could have given” to a foreign power, his lawyer said.

In 2018, Reporters Without Borders ranked Algeria 136 out of 180 in terms of press freedoms.


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