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Algerian Journalist Jailed for "False News"

FILE - A man looks at newspapers on display in Algiers,. Taken Sept. 21, 2010.

An Algerian court has jailed a journalist convicted of "spreading false news" in an article about dates being allegedly tainted with banned pesticides, his newspaper said Wednesday.

Belkacem Houam has been handed a year-long prison sentence, most of it suspended, but still, he will spend two months behind bars, said his paper, Echorouk.

Houam, whose arrest in September provoked widespread indignation online, will also have to pay a fine of 100,000 dinars (about $710), Echorouk added.

Houam's lawyer Hassen Brahmi said the journalist had been charged with "illicit speculation" and spreading "false information... to provoke a disruption in the market and a sudden and unjustified increase in prices."

He was detained after reporting there had been an "immediate halt in date exports from Algeria", saying importers had returned 3,000 tons of Deglet Nour dates that were "unfit for consumption".

The Algerian trade and agriculture ministry has denied the affair.

The national journalists' union, SNJ, called Houam's arrest "an extreme and highly disproportionate measure which contravenes all texts governing the exercise of the journalistic profession" in Algeria.

The North African country ranks 134th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders "Press Freedom" index.