Algeria upholds conviction of journalist; rights groups fear new crackdown

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators carry national flags during a protest in Algiers

ALGIERS (Reuters) - An Algerian appeals court upheld the conviction of a journalist on Tuesday in what rights campaigners called a new crackdown on dissent aimed at preventing the revival of mass protests that toppled veteran ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year.

The Hirak popular protest movement brought thousands of Algerians to the streets for weekly demonstrations, which continued even after Bouteflika quit and a new president was elected in December.

A judicial source and a rights group that defends detainees said the appeals court had upheld the conviction of journalist Khaled Drareni on charges which include threatening national unity and "inciting unarmed gatherings".

His sentence was reduced to two years from a three-year term imposed by a lower court last month.

The mass demonstrations in Algeria lasted more than a year until they were finally halted in March by a coronavirus lockdown. Some campaigners say they plan to return to the streets once the lockdown is lifted.

They demand the military-backed ruling elite give way to a new generation of leadership.

Drareni has been in detention since his arrest in March after he attended demonstrations.

The court in Algiers also confirmed four-month prison sentences against two other activists in the protest movement, Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, for inciting unarmed gatherings, the source and the National Committee for the Release of Detainees said.

"These harsh sentences underline the broader crackdown on freedoms in the country, and confirm an alarming pattern of prosecutions targeting journalists and activists who called for more democracy and respect for the rule of law in Algeria," rights watchdog Amnesty International said in a statement.

(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Angus McDowall and Peter Graff)