Salima Tlemcani | 2004 Courage in Journalism Award
El Watan, Algeria.
Tlemcani has been an investigative journalist since the early 1990s. Since 1992, she has worked for El Watan, an independent national daily and top French-language newspaper in Algeria. The newspaper was founded in 1990 when the Algerian government first permitted independent media. Previously, Tlemcani worked for Le Quotidien d’Algerie as an environmental reporter.
In 1991, the Front Islamique du Salut/Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a party of moderate and radical Islamists, won a majority victory in Algeria’s national parliamentary elections. The former socialist government nullified the elections and banned the FIS. The radical wing of the FIS, the Groupe Islamique Armee/Armed Islamic Group (GIA), then began a civil war in Algeria that lasted until 1999.
From the start of her work at El Watan, Tlemcani has covered the activities of armed Islamic groups in Algeria, focusing on the killings of journalists and intellectuals. Throughout the civil war, Tlemcani continued to speak out against the actions of GIA and FIS. Tlemcani is still considered an enemy by fundamentalist groups in Algeria. She is listed as an enemy on the FIS website.
She has also written about the effects of terrorism on its victims and has helped to create support networks for women and children who are victims of terrorism. She has written about eyewitness accounts of women being raped by Islamic terrorists and of isolated populations being massacred.
As a result of her reporting from 1993 to 1994, Tlemcani’s name appeared on a “death list” put out by GIA and the Armee Islamiste de Salut (AIS). Ten of the 22 journalists on the list were assassinated. For that reason, Tlemcani began writing under her pen name to protect her reporting. Many of her family members who work in the public sector have also received threats with the intention of intimidating Tlemcani, which is another reason why Tlemcani reports under her pen name.
More recently, Tlemcani has written articles on economics, corruption and the misuse of public funds. She also continues to report on women and minority rights. In 2001, she reported from Pakistan and Afghanistan on Algerian terrorists who had been trained in Afghanistan.
Tlemcani is currently battling three lawsuits. The Ministry of Defense has brought a defamation case against Tlemcani over an article about two military officers who were promoted despite being implicated in corruption. She is awaiting an appeal date for this case. The ministries of Interior and National Security have sued her for defamation over an article that reported on 50 police officers who had accused the national police chief of abuse of power. Tlemcani could receive a sentence of five years in prison if she is convicted and El Watan could be fined. This trial has been postponed until October 2004. She is also appealing a one-year prison sentence imposed as the result of a lawsuit by the Ministry of Health for an investigation she did of a public cardiac surgical clinic where the death rate was too high. This case is currently pending before the Algerian Supreme Court.
Salima Tlemcani is the second Courage in Journalism Award winner from Algeria, following Horria Saihi (1995).