An Algerian court has jailed a journalist convicted of “spreading false news” in an article about dates allegedly tainted with banned pesticides, his newspaper said Wednesday.
Belkacem Houam was handed a year-long prison sentence, most of it suspended, but he will spend two months behind bars, said his paper, Echorouk.
Houam, whose arrest in September provoked widespread indignation online, will also have to pay a fine of 100,000 dinars (about $710), Echorouk added.
He was detained after reporting there had been an “immediate halt in date exports from Algeria,” saying importers had returned 3,000 tons of Deglet Nour dates that were “unfit for consumption.”
The Algerian trade and agriculture ministry has denied the affair.
Houam’s lawyer Hassen Brahmi said the journalist had been charged with “illicit speculation” and spreading “false information... to provoke a disruption in the market and a sudden and unjustified increase in prices.”
Echorouk noted however that “the court cleared him of spreading false news in order to cause price hikes.”
The national journalists’ union, SNJ, called Houam’s arrest “an extreme and highly disproportionate measure which contravenes all texts governing the exercise of the journalistic profession” in Algeria.
More than 100 journalists signed a petition demanding his release.
The North African country ranks 134th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
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