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At least 33 detainees relating to the Hirak protest movement were released on February 19 following the announcement of a presidential pardon the day before. Among them, the journalist Khaled Drareni and the opponent Rachid Nekkaz.

More than 30 detainees, arrested and sentenced on the sidelines of Hirak, including journalist and activist Khaled Drareni, were released on February 19 following a presidential pardon granted three days after the 2nd anniversary of the popular uprising that stirred up part of the Algerian people. “A total of 33 people have been released so far. The proceedings are underway for the rest, ”said a statement from the Ministry of Justice without specifying names. In total, the President of the Republic Abdelmadjid Tebboune had announced several dozen releases on February 18.

Photos and videos relayed on social networks showed the released detainees reuniting with their relatives and supporters in several regions, including those imprisoned at the Koléa prison center, near Algiers.

Among them, Khaled Drareni, who has become the symbol of the fight for press freedom in Algeria, who was sentenced to two years in prison last September for “inciting unarmed assembly” and “undermining national unity”.

“I thank all those who supported me and who supported the prisoners of conscience because your support is essential for us all and it is the proof of our innocence”, reacted the journalist of 40 years, after his release, in a video relayed on Twitter. He appeared on social media images carried by a crowd of supporters.

Correspondent in Algeria for the TV5 Monde channel and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Khaled Drareni had covered the unprecedented popular protest movement Hirak, in particular via its accounts on social networks, before the suspension of the demonstrations because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to one of his lawyers, Abdelghani Badi, it is a measure of “provisional release”. The journalist is awaiting a Supreme Court decision on February 25 on his cassation appeal. His conviction had aroused indignation in Algeria and abroad.

“He was doing his job”

Ahmed Benchemsi, a regional official with Human Rights Watch (HRW), said he was “very happy to know Khaled Drareni finally free”. “He shouldn’t have spent a minute in jail. He was just doing his job. Honor to him, ”he wrote on Twitter.

The United States hailed the release of militants by Algeria. “We hope to see encouraging steps like this continue,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The opponent Rachid Nekkaz is also one of the released detainees, according to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD). Incarcerated in the prison of El Bayadh (southwest), he had started a hunger strike earlier in the day to protest his prolonged detention, without trial, despite the deterioration of his state of health according to those around him.

In his speech to the nation on February 18, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said: “The”Hirak blessed “saved Algeria. I decided to grant a presidential pardon […] Between 55 and 60 people will join their families ”.

According to the latest figures from the CNLD before these releases, some 70 people were detained in connection with Hirak and / or individual freedoms. Several activists welcomed these releases, while the country is undermined by a triple political, economic and health crisis. The day after his election in December 2019, Tebboune had already granted pardon to 76 detainees, including figures from the Hirak.

New protests ahead of the Hirak anniversary date

This new gesture of appeasement by the president, as soon as he returned from a long hospitalization in Germany, comes before the 2nd anniversary of the Hirak, on February 22, which had forced ex-strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika to leave power.

Before the anniversary date of Hirak, demonstrations took place on February 16 and 19 in several cities and calls for demonstrations on February 22 across the country are circulating on social networks. “Apart from the release of detainees […], Tebboune still maintains its roadmap and its agenda to go to legislative elections to complete the Hirak», Lamented Saïd Salhi, vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights. Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced in his speech early legislative elections by the end of 2021, as well as a cabinet reshuffle “within 48 hours at most”. “By offering electoral perspectives and participation in political life, the president hopes to change the situation, and put political life back in institutions to extract it definitively from the street”, analyzes the writer and columnist Abed Charef.

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