A court in Algeria Monday sentenced journalist Khaled Drareni to three years in prison after finding him guilty of inciting unauthorized demonstrations and endangering national unity.
Drareni reported on many of the pro-democracy protests that took place in the country over the last two years. Two co-defendants who were part of the protest movement known as "Hirak" also received four-month terms.
Drareni disputed the charges against him during his trial, which was conducted through video conferencing due to concerns over COVID-19. Drareni maintained that he was only doing his job as an independent journalist. As the proceedings took place, dozens of protesters gathered outside the courthouse, demanding his freedom.
Drareni was editor of the news website Casbah Tribune and a correspondent for French station TV5Monde.
Drareni was arrested on March 29 after he covered the Hirak movement. These protests started in February 2019 with the purpose of rejecting former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to seek a fifth term. Coverage of the protests led to the departure of the ruling elite last year. After a new president was elected in December, the protesters' aims grew to include more broadly criticizing Algeria's current government and advocating for democracy.
The sentence drew criticism from media right groups such as Reporters Without Borders, or RSF. On Monday, RSF said in a statement that it was appalled by the sentence.
RSF Secretary General Cristophe Deloire said, "This is clearly a judicial persecution against a journalist who is a credit to his country. This decision by a justice system that follows orders has turned Khaled Drareni into a symbol that will trigger international outrage and a major international campaign for his release."
Prior to Monday's developments, RSF said that if Drareni were sentenced, "it will confirm that the Algerian state has turned its back on the ideals of the country's independence."
Additionally, the court sentenced Drareni to pay a 50,000 dinar fine (or just under $400), according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees.
According to RSF, at least one other journalist in Algeria is awaiting trial.