At least 35 Algerian pro-democracy activists released, say rights groups

Algerian authorities released at least 35 pro-democracy activists from jail in the past 24 hours under presidential pardons issued ahead of the second anniversary of a popular uprising, rights groups said.

The Hirak protest movement, which swept strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in 2019, marks its second anniversary on Monday, with calls on social media for demonstrations to mark the day.

On Saturday, rights group the National Committee for the Liberation of Prisoners (CNLD) said at least 35 people had been released from jail in the past 24 hours.

The justice ministry had reported Friday the release of 33 detainees held over acts linked to “the use of social media networks,” adding that procedures were underway for others.

The CNLD estimates that around 70 people were in prison over their links with the Hirak or other peaceful opposition political activity.

Among those pardoned on Friday was prominent journalist Khalid Drareni, a correspondent for French-language TV5 Monde and press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

He was jailed for his coverage of the Hirak protests, and like many other detainees, accused of incitement.

“My fight (for freedom of the press) will continue,” Drareni told TV5 Monde after his release from the Kolea prison west of Algiers.

TV5 Monde hailed his release after 11 months in detention.

“He was detained and sentenced for doing his job as a journalist,” network head Yves Bigot said in a statement on Saturday.

RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire called the release a step “in the right direction” after “11 months of injustice.”

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced on Thursday dozens of pardons in a gesture of appeasement, as the Hirak movement – which had suspended its rallies in March last year amid coronavirus restrictions – gathers momentum again.

Tebboune said 55 to 60 Hirak members would benefit from the amnesty.

The United States and the European Union welcomed the releases and voiced support for freedom of expression in Algeria.

“We hope to see positive steps like these continue,” a State Department spokesperson said.

EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, described the pardons in a tweet as a “decision that recognizes the importance of freedom of expression and pluralism in the democratic process.”

On Thursday, Tebboune also announced early elections, calling for the dissolution of parliament and declaring a government reshuffle within 48 hours.

Legislative elections had been scheduled to be held in 2022, but Tebboune wants polls to take place before year’s end.

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