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Algerian National Arrested for Engaging in Disinformation

Algerian National Arrested for Engaging in Disinformation

Tuesday, 21 April, 2020 - 10:30
A general view shows empty streets after an anti-government protest was suspended, following the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Algiers, Algeria March 20, 2020. REUTERS / Ramzi Boudina

A west Algeria court applied on Monday for a remand of an Algerian to allow for investigations to take course into the defendant’s publishing of fake news relating to the novel coronavirus.

Authorities considered the published material illicit and aimed at damaging national interest.

This arrest comes hours after ministers amended articles of the Criminal Code related to "criminalizing false news."

The defendant had published that a group of people who were placed under quarantine in a hotel in Oran, a port city in northwest Algeria, were allowed to leave the lockdown before completing the mandatory 14-day stay after authorities intervened.

The circulated fake news sparked widespread rage on social media which triggered the opening of an investigation into the claims. According to sources with knowledge of the matter, it was confirmed that none of the 300 persons quarantined had left the hotel before spending the period dictated by the health ministry.

They all had returned to Algeria from France in the middle of last month, and they were placed in isolation directly. According to sources, they left for their homes a few days ago because no case of the virus was detected among them.

The defendant, an Algerian male in his 30’s, was arrested for allegedly sowing chaos and disrupting social peace through social media. He currently is undergoing investigations pending his trial.

Human rights activists protested against the arrest on the grounds that publishing news or declarations of any gravity should not lead its owner to prison, and that there are alternative temporary penalties provided for by law, including judicial oversight.

A cabinet meeting chaired by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had approved changes to penal code and called for the “criminalization of promoting disinformation with the aim of undermining public order and security.”

Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati justified the amendment by pointing out to widespread disinformation threatening security and stability in the country.

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