ALGIERS, 1 July 2004 — Al-Jazeera television has been ordered to suspend its coverage of events in Algeria in the first such action against a foreign media outlet under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the station’s correspondent said here yesterday.
“I was informed of the freeze, which is valid until further notice, of the station’s activities, but was not given any explanation other than the fact that foreign correspondents’ work is being reorganized and I could resume my activities afterward,” Mohamed Daho told AFP.
Local newsmen had foreshadowed the move by noting Tuesday that the authorities had “not appreciated” a recent debate aired by the popular Al-Jazeera that implicitly questioned Bouteflika’s plan for ending the long-running civil war in the north African country.
Other newspapers speculated that the move was in response to Al-Jazeera’s coverage of a June 21 attack on a power station in Algiers.
Officials said the blast, which injured 11 people, four seriously, was probably an accident, but the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), the largest radical group in the north African country, has claimed responsibility for it.
The GSPC, which has been linked to Al-Qaeda, and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) rejected Bouteflika’s “civil reconciliation” plan, which allowed several thousand extremists who had been fighting to oust the secular government since 1992 to surrender in exchange for partial amnesty.
Bouteflika centered his re-election campaign this year on the plan, and his landslide victory in April was largely attributed to his success in bringing the civil war under control.
Al-Jazeera broadcasts via satellite to Algeria, where the station has a large audience as well as other foreign broadcasters in Arabic and French. The move against Al-Jazeera was the first such move against a foreign news organization since Bouteflika took office in 1999, although last July the government ordered foreign journalists who had come to Algeria to cover the release from jail of two leaders of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) out of the country.
“The Algerian authorities did not appreciate our broadcasting images of the liberation” of FIS leaders Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj, one journalist told AFP at the time.
Confrontations between the local press and Bouteflika’s government are practically routine.