Algerian blogger faces 25 years in prison over interview with Israeli diplomat

Algerian blogger Merzoug Touati is known in his country as someone who causes quite a few problems for the government. It now appears that they have found an excuse to arrest him, after he uploaded a video to his YouTube channel wherein he interviews Hassan Kaabia, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson for Arabic-speaking media.

The interview was uploaded on January 9 and focused on the public response to the 2017 Algerian Finance Law, which went into effect on January 1 and was followed by strikes and riots that erupted across the country.

According to the Algerian League for the Defense Human Rights (LADDH), the group’s lawyers are representing Touati in court; police arrested Touati on January 18 and confiscated his computer and camera.

He was arrested five days after Algeria allegedly uncovered a spy ring that worked for Israel, claiming that “an international network to recruit Algerians for the Mossad” has been exposed.

LADDH lawyer Ikken Sofiane told Algerian news site El-Watan that Touati was charged for “exchanging with agents of a foreign power intelligence that could harm the military or diplomatic status of Algeria or its vital economic interests.” If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.

Kaabia has responded to the allegations against Touati, saying that “Israel has no connection to what’s happening in the Arab nations.” He then added that there is no quarrel between Israel and Algeria and reminded that until 2000, Israel had an embassy in Algeria. Since his interview, nothing was uploaded to Touati’s YouTube channel.

The Annahar Algerian newspaper, which covered the story at length, came out with an article titled “The blogger’s case exposes an international network to recruit Algerians to the Mossad.” The article included a detailed map allegedly documenting all of Touati’s vast connections. In the article, which was released on February 2, it was written that “Following Touati’s arrest, a preliminary investigation has uncovered a vast network working for foreign agents who tried to undermine the political stability in Algeria.”

A follow up article was published by the paper one day later, allegedly quoting statements Touati made during his investigation: “I tried going to Israel and I was in contact with a former Mossad agent.” The article also claimed that he gathered information on Jewish property in the Algerian city of Ghardaïa and “passed it to the Zionists.” It further claimed that he administrated a Facebook page called “Israeli citizenship” and published an ad for Algerian recruitment for the Mossad.

In related news, an Algerian report was published in Arab news networks on January 13 that “An international spy ring working for Israel was uncovered in Ghardaïa.” The report claimed that the networked was comprised of ten members, including citizens of Libya, Mali, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria and Kenya.