Reporters Without Borders on Monday stepped up its call for Algerian authorities to ban the use of prison sentences in libel cases and urged an end to anti-press laws in the criminal code.

At a news conference at its Paris headquarters, the group called for the release of Mohamed Benchicou, the prominent editor of Le Matin daily, a day before the one-year mark in his prison term.

He is serving a sentence for violating a law governing the transfer of money, viewed by many international press advocates as a trumped-up charge.

Sentences criticised

The group also criticised two court verdicts last month against a former editor of Liberte newspaper, who was convicted in absentia and fined, and two journalists from another daily, Le Soir d'Algerie.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
urged journalists to be ethical

"There has not been such a harsh crackdown on the press for years," the group said in a statement. "The number of independent news outlets is shrinking fast and press freedom is now in great danger in Algeria."

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a frequent target of Algeria's vibrant newspapers, last month urged journalists to respect ethics and "refuse that their talents be manipulated in a way that harms Algeria".

He faulted "political, economic, financial and criminal interest groups that push journalists to contravene the law and attack people" in an address to reporters.