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Algeria shuts TV station after airing interview with former Islamist insurgent

Fayez Nureldine, AFP file picture | Mezrag during a press conference in Algiers, on October 29, 2006

Algerian authorities on Monday shut down a private TV station after it aired an interview with a former Islamist insurgent leader who criticised President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and warned him to not get in his way of starting up a political party.


The communication ministry lodged a complaint against the El Watan TV station following the broadcast of comments from Madani Mezrag earlier this month, in which he attacked Bouteflika for barring him from creating a political party.

The channel “operates in an illegal manner and broadcasts subversive content and was detrimental to state symbols”, the ministry said in a statement.

In the interview, Mezrag, founder of the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), the armed wing of the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front party (FIS), warned President Bouteflika, saying: “If he doesn’t rethink his position, he will hear from me things he has never heard before.”

“The man who gives me orders hasn’t yet been born.” Mezrag added.

On Monday, police forced the 171 staff to leave the station.

The station’s owner, Dfajar Chelli, said he would appeal the decision.

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

"El Watan has stepped over the line of tolerance," a ministry source said of the shut-down.

The station is based in London and broadcasts from the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus but has offices in Algiers.

Mezrag’s Islamic Salvation Army was formed during the North African nation’s “black decade” in the 1990s, triggered by a ban on the FIS which was poised to win legislative elections. Ensuing violence between security forces and Islamic insurgents left an estimated 200,000 people dead.

Mezrag had cut a ceasefire deal with Algerian authorities in 1997 in which his group laid down arms. The deal forbids Mezrag from taking up politics but the former fighter remains determined.


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