in Algeria, “emptying the country’s coffers is better than being a journalist”

On Tuesday September 15, Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni was sentenced to two years in prison for covering protests against the regime. A sentence that reveals the arbitrariness and violence of Algerian power, this journalist moves in a lyrical forum.

After Bouteflika? It’s Bouteflika, without a doubt. Surely. That is to say, the eternal subsistence of the authoritarian regime and its means – “justice” -, despots. A regime in which it is better to empty the coffers of an entire nation than to exercise, nobly, the profession of journalist.

Algiers, September 15, 2020: the hour of arbitrariness strikes at the Court of Algiers. The conviction, on appeal, to two years in prison of the Algerian journalist, Khaled Drareni, after an unfair trial [est prononcée]. For what reason, what accusation? Nothing. An empty folder. Translation: a file that “justice” will fill with “irrefutable evidence”, in reality totally refutable.

A scene of incomparable absurdity reminiscent of Meursault killing the Arab [dans L’Étranger d’Albert Camus]. This crime brilliantly paints, in a setting of a solar furnace, the arbitrariness of colonialism and its countless crimes – if we take into consideration the work and political commitment of Albert Camus.

Neither complacency nor concession

As in The Stranger, the sun was overwhelming, on this day of September 15, 2020: “It was breaking into pieces on the sand and on the sea”. Like Meursault, the Algerian regime can no longer endure the sun and the light conveyed by the hirak – a peaceful revolt with democratic aspirations – since February 22, 2019.

Khaled Drareni, a prominent figure in free journalism in Algeria, has exacerbated the weight of sun and light on the Algerian regime, by the simple fact of covering the weekly hirak marches – without any complacency, without concessions either. This practice of journalism earned him his arrest on Thursday, March 26, 2020, then his arrest warrant on the 29 of the same month. Why ?

It was the same sun as the day I had buried Mum and, like then, my forehead especially ached and all its veins were beating together under the skin.

This is how the Algerian “justice” replied.

Lucid, Khaled Drareni maintained a dignified and combative attitude throughout his trial. When the “judge” turns to the screen to ask for a final concluding word, he recklessly announces the final word:

I will continue to do my job as a journalist in the same way ”.

The recklessness and integrity of Khaled Drareni, his refusal to be a journalist “clone” of the system has increased the thickness of the “Warm veil” which covered the eyelids of Meursault, alias Algerian “justice”. The “Warm veil” became hot, blinding de facto. What happened then? “So I fired four more times at an inert body where the bullets sank unnoticed. And it was like four short knocks that I knocked on the door of misfortune.

The Algiers court has “taken” two more years in prison “on a body” imprisoned unjustly, arbitrarily. A third shot to kill the journalist’s legal person; a fourth to better bury journalism in Algeria. These two years in prison followed a campaign of harassment and defamation against Khaled Drareni: formidable spy, dangerous “khabardji”(Informant). Also, intelligence with foreign parties, illegal and suspicious financing of foreign media, incitement to unarmed assembly, attack on national unity, the Algerian “justice” will say. It is these empty and unfounded accusations that “they” call the “dossier Khaled Drareni”.

Sustain the power in place

In § 23 of The Antichrist, Nietzsche writes about Christianity:

“Above all, he knows that it is in and of itself quite indifferent that something is true, but that it is of the utmost importance to the extent that it is believed to be true. The truth and the belief in the truth of something: two completely separate domains of interests, almost antithetical domains – we come to both by fundamentally different routes. […]. When, for example, it is happiness to know that one is saved from sin, it is by no means necessary that man be a sinner, but that he feel himself a sinner. But, insofar as faith is necessary above all else, reason, knowledge, intellectual research must be discredited: the path of truth becomes a forbidden path..”

Exaggeratedly – maybe! – I would say that Nietzsche is, in this passage, premonitory about the unfolding of Khaled Drareni’s trial. The Court of Algiers had “Not at all” interest in seeing the reality, the personal and professional ethics of the journalist. She had “was” and so “truth” who is she “antithetical” with that of Khaled Drareni. The sentence of the Court of Algiers announcing years of prison for the latter is the triumph of what it “Believes” true.

This reversal of notions of “good”, of “times”, of “true” and you “faux” contributes to slander and discredit any independent political organization stemming from civil society. The reversal aims to maintain baseness and perpetuate the power in place. Nietzsche will say “To make mankind sick”.

Hence the worrying question: is the Khaled Drareni affair only the continuation of the war against the hirak by other means? “Political”, “judicial”, perhaps?

Suppress the hirak

In the present case, we are indeed witnessing a judicial war against any desire to escape media and political censorship, demanded by the leading figures of the hirak, in particular Khaled Drareni. It is nevertheless surreal to transform the media coverage of a peaceful demonstration in central Algiers, into an “incitement to unarmed assembly” and an “attack on national unity”. Why ? The System has decided so.

The judicial discourse that arbitrarily condemned Khaled Drareni is only the inflation and the exacerbation of the ideology of resentment, specific to populist-type regimes. The basic reasoning of resentment thinking manifests itself in the strong junction between frustration and argument, between pathos and logos. The frustration is that of the political awakening of the Algerian people, their re-politicization following the event of February 22, 2019: the hirak.

A strong symbol against free journalism

The reasoning is that of defamatory speech: any challenge to the established order is a threat against the “unity of the Nation”, a “foreign hand”. Translation: a threat to the interests of a dominant group at the head of power. […] It is to this model that the Algerian “new democracy” aspires: to restore in the Post-Bouteflika the lost Eden of the Avant-Bouteflika. An Eden where the press, journalists and citizens will be more and more “free” to say nothing, to be silent. It remains a “freedom” all the same! At least they can say what suits the sensibility of the “new republic”.

The conviction of Khaled Drareni – as well as that of several political activists – is a strong, significant symbol: it is the crucifixion of a conscientious and honest person, the crucifixion of free journalism, the crucifixion of the truth telling. Energetic in the face of pain and strong in front of an inquisitorial tribunal, the journalist did not give in. Unwavering, he solemnly affirmed that he will continue to do his work as a journalist according to his ethics, according to his commitment.

I accuse the will to defame, I accuse the will to punish! May justice be done to Khaled Drareni! Free the prisoner of the Tullianum! May justice be done to all political prisoners! Free all political prisoners!

Juba Ben Nakkache

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