Algeria to close private TV over 'subversive' interview

AFP , Monday 12 Oct 2015

Algeria on Monday ordered the closure of a private television station after it broadcast an interview with an Islamist figure accused of "subversive" remarks, the communications ministry said.

The decision came after El Watan TV broadcast on October 3 an interview with Madani Mezrag, the former head of the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), the armed wing of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS).

In the interview Mezrag spoke of his plans to set up a political party and criticised President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for rejecting his initiative.

"If he (the president) does not review his position, he will hear from me what he has never heard before," Mezrag said in the interview.

A source at the communications ministry said El Watan was being shut over "subversive remarks and attacks against the symbol of the State" -- an apparent reference to the veteran leader.

The source said that Communications Minister Hamid Grine has asked the governor of Algiers to take the necessary steps to close down El Watan.

"This chain is not authorised to work in Algeria where it has no official accreditation," said the source.

El Watan TV is based in London and broadcasts from the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, although it has offices in Algiers where it employs 170 people.

Owner Dfajar Chelli told AFP he would appeal the decision.

More than 40 private television channels work out of Algeria but only five have official accreditation, according to the communications ministry. Others are tolerated by authorities.

"El Watan has stepped over the line of tolerance," the ministry source said.

In 1997, Mezrag cut a deal with the army that allowed thousands of ISA members to be pardoned after laying down their weapons. Other Islamist leaders also benefited from the agreement.

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