Chawki Amari, a cartoonist and columnist with the privately owned Algerian daily La Tribune, was arrested at his home on July 4, 1996 after a committal order was issued against him. His crime? He had “committed” a cartoon making fun of the Algerian political classes. The examining magistrate in charge of the case took the cartoon literally and ordered that Chawki Amari should be taken to Serkadji prison, in Algiers city center. The magistrate cited Article 160 bis of the Penal Code, which provides for jail sentences of from five to ten years for “anyone who deliberately and publicly tears up, defaces or defile the national symbol.” The offices of La Tribune were locked up and the publishing manager, Khaireddine Ameyar, and editor, Baya Gacemi, put under legal supervision. La Tribune was thus effectively suspended.
Chawki Amari is regarded as one of the most talented Algerian cartoonists of his generation. Before helping to launch La Tribune, he had worked for the French language weeklies Le Jeudi d’Algèrie and L’Opinion. Until the presidential elections of October 1995, he published a daily column called “The Eye of the Cyclone,” a scathing and skilful combination of absurdity and impertinence.
On July 31, 1996, Chawki Amari was given a three-year suspended prison sentence because of this cartoon. On September 3, 1996, the privately owned daily La Tribune was suspended for six months by an Algiers court.
“Is it for Independence Day?”
“No, they’re hanging out their dirty linen.”
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