France: journalist Henri Alleg, dead at 91

His 1958 book revealed French torture in Algeria

18 July, 18:24

    (ANSAmed) - PARIS, JULY 18 - Former Algerian independence fighters saluted French journalist Henri Alleg, who in the 1950s was the first to denounce French torture in Algeria and who died today in Paris aged 91, as a man who ''always fought the good fight''. Born in London in 1921 of Russian and Polish parents, Alleg became a French citizen when his family emigrated to Paris. His father, who escaped famine and pogroms to become a successful tailor, destined him to become a pharmacist, but instead Henri read, traveled, studied literature at the Sorbonne, and became involved in politics.

    In 1940 he moved to Algiers, where he lived on odd jobs and got to know the locals as well as refugees from the German invasion and Algerian independence militants.

    He joined the Communist Party and became director of its Alger Républicain newspaper, which also published Albert Camus.

    Targeted by French authorities, the newspaper was often raided and ultimately banned.

    Branded as subversives, its employees went underground: it was 1957, the year of the battle of Algiers, of violent repression and arbitrary detention.

    One January morning, Alleg was arrested while visiting a Communist friend and taken to Barberousse prison, where he experienced first-hand the treatment French colonial police reserved for independence fighters: interrogation via torture, with beatings, water-boarding, cigarette burns. His attorney Leo Matarasso, who was also counsel for the Algerian National Liberation Front, exhorted him to ''do that which illiterate others cannot do''. Alleg took up the challenge, writing an account of his detention. Matarasso smuggled the manuscript out of Barberousse and into Paris, where Editions du Minuit published it in February 1958 under the title 'La Question'.

    It was banned and taken off the shelves less than a month later, but not before it was read by 60,000 people who began to debate it, share it, and question the role of France in Algeria.


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