Algeria Frees First Activists After Presidential Pardons

Algeria released more than 30 pro-democracy activists from jail on Friday, including a prominent journalist, in the first batch freed under presidential pardons issued ahead of the second anniversary of a popular uprising.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared in a speech Thursday dozens of pardons in a gesture of appeasement as the Hirak protest movement, which swept former strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in 2019, gathers momentum once again.

“So far 33 people have been released. Procedures are under way for the rest,” the justice ministry said in a statement.

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Tebboune’s initiative comes ahead of the Hirak’s second anniversary on February 22, with calls on social media for demonstrations on Monday to mark the day.

Algeria is facing political and economic crises, with the coronavirus pandemic adding to the woes of an oil-dependent economy.

Human rights organizations and opposition parties have demanded for two months that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune release demonstrators who were detained in protests or for social media posts.

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The protests that began in the town of Hirak two years ago spread across the country but were hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those pardoned was prominent journalist Khalid Drareni, 40, who walked out of the Kolea prison on Friday, his lawyer Abdelghani Badi said, adding however, that his release was provisional.

Relatives of prisoners and journalists had gathered outside the Kolea prison, west of the capital Algiers, from the early hours of the morning.