Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has pardoned and released no fewer than 30 pro-democracy activists including a prominent journalist after leading protests to demand good governance and proper implementation of democratic values across the country.
The journalist, Khaled Drareni, a correspondent for French-language channel TV5 Monde and member of the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), was earlier sentenced to a two-year jail term over his coverage of Hirak, anti-government protests.
Also released and granted amnesty by the president was Dalila Touat, a top Hirak activist, who had been on a hunger strike in prison since last month.
Before the release, dozens of people gathered outside the prison in Kolea, west of the capital Algiers, where the journalist and other activists had been held by the government over their actions, chanting “free and democratic Algeria”.
Addressing the crowd after his release, Drareni said: “I thank all those who have shown solidarity with us in Algeria and abroad, because of our combat as free and independent journalists and the fight of all imprisoned journalists and all prisoners of opinion. We will all be free when all the prisoners are free”.
The pardons were issued ahead of the second anniversary of the Hirak protest movement, which demanded an overhaul of the political system that had been in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.
Before now, the movement pushed longtime former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika out of office in 2019. It was halted last year as the pandemic took hold, but the protests have since returned.
Tebboune had earlier disclosed that around 55 to 60 Hirak members would receive amnesty, as the protesters plan to mark two years of action next Monday.
The president also called for new elections earlier this week, dissolved parliament, and promised to reshuffle the government within 48 hours, although the elections might take place by the end of the year.
According to the National Committee for the Liberation of Prisoners (CNLD), there were about 70 people currently in prison over their links with the Hirak or other opposition political activities.
The Hirak movement has regained momentum in recent times, as the country continues to face political and economic issues, with the COVID-19 pandemic adding to the troubles of the oil-dependent economy.
Drareni’s lawyer, Abdelghani Badi, in an interview with newsmen, while waiting for his client’s release, said “we hope that the amnesty will be a first step towards a real political transition in which the people will be sovereign”.
A member of the Algerian League for Human Rights, Said Salhi, said, “democracy is not limited to elections but to the exercise of democratic freedoms. The Hirak calls for a change of the system through an authentic and open democratic process.”
A Taxi driver, Mussa Abdelli, concurred in an interview with newsmen, said: “The people are not satisfied by the government’s decisions. We want to build an independent and free nation and the pardon is far from enough”.