Echorouk newspaper journalist Belkacem Haouam has been placed in pretrial detention due to an article he wrote about stopping the export of Algerian dates containing harmful pesticides. The Ministry of Commerce later denied the claim.
The decision to arrest Haouam came after the Ministry of Commerce filed a complaint against the newspaper and the journalist, alleging that it caused harm to the national economy.
Accordingly, the journalist was summoned to the court to appear before the public prosecutor and then the investigating judge, who ordered to put him on pretrial detention after being formally charged. Meanwhile, Echorouk was prevented from being printed, forcing it not to be issued last Thursday.
In the article in question, the journalist wrote about a decision taken by the Minister of Trade to immediately stop the export of Algerian Deglet Nour dates after they were withdrawn from several European markets because they contain high levels of chemicals not licensed in Europe.
Haouam affirmed that this decision was taken to preserve the reputation of Algerian dates and to address the problems associated with their export. He also referred to the great losses producers suffered due to the withdrawal of Deglet Nour from the shelves in countries that used to import Algerian dates.
Published on 7 September, the article angered the Ministry of Trade and Export Promotion, which issued a statement refuting this information. The ministry asserted in its statement: "Everything mentioned in this article is based on baseless and unjustified information that harms the national economy and the wealth of our country. The quality of Algerian dates is preferred at all international levels."
The ministry continued: "This unprofessional behaviour is based on the writer's failure to investigate the facts and the reliable information provided by directorates. The ministry's efforts largely focus on promoting and encouraging non-oil exports."
It pointed out that it: "Decided to take all necessary measures against the writer of the article and the relevant newspaper including judicial prosecution before the competent authorities."
However, the decision to imprison Haouam provoked strong reactions among journalists who sympathised with their colleague and considered that his imprisonment contradicts the Constitution, which stipulates the protection of journalists from freedom-depriving punishment in relation to journalistic work.
Echorouk newspaper also published a statement on the arrest of Haouam.
Journalist Rachid Ould Bousiafa shared: "Colleague Belkacem Haouam represents exceptional professional and moral value and is a true example of a journalist committed to the causes of his nation and country. His imprisonment is a mistake because his path is clean and rich in experiences. He defended the vulnerable, the oppressed and the poor, and he was an honest voice."
In the same context, lawyer and human rights defender Abdel Rahman Saleh confirmed: "Detaining a journalist after charging him based on his journalistic work is a violation of the Constitution and the law."
Media professor at the University of Algiers, Radwan Boudjemaa, wrote: "The absence of a newspaper from the kiosks without anyone noticing that is a sufficient indication of the death of the journalism profession in this country. The separation between society and the press is clear due to the lack of credibility."
An image of the article has been widely circulated across social media platforms.