ALGIERS, 23 February 2021 – The release from prison, thanks to a presidential pardon, of Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni was confirmed Tuesday by several news outlets.
During nearly a year in custody, Drareni became the symbol of the fight for press freedom in Algeria.
Four days ago, Algerian judicial authorities would not say if Drareni was among those pardoned by the Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune, but media reports on Tuesday confirmed that he walked free from jail three days ago – last February 19.
Drareni was released from Kolea Prison in western Algeria to his relatives, and fellow activists and journalists who had gathered outside the prison to celebrate his heroism and sacrifice.
Drareni appeared to be in good shape and calm, as walked away from prison, wearing a mask and flashing the “V” sign of victory with his fingers, as he walked towards his relations and professional colleagues.
Drareni has brandished the sign before, notably whenever he faced intimidation from Algerian authorities.
The released journalist expressed thanks to Algerians and press freedom watchdog organizations whose campaigns and street protests had never stopped mounting pressure on Algerian authorities throughout his incarceration.
“I thank all those who have supported me and who have supported the prisoners,” Drareni said in a video posted on social media.
“Your support is fundamental to all of us and is proof of our innocence,” he added, speaking also for activists and organizers of massive street protests who were arrested and thrown in prison along with him.
The 41-year-old Drareni, who was born on 10 May 1980 to wealthy parents, studied law and political science at the Ben Aknoun Faculty in Algeria before choosing to make journalism his career.
He has been one of Algeria’s star television presnters since 2013 when he started working for the private television stations Dzair TV and Echourouk TV.
In 2017, he founded Casbah Tribune, which covers Algerian news.
Since last December, the platform has been prevented from publishing by Algerian authorities.
In mid-September 2020, Drareni’s sentence, initially to three years in prison, was reduced to two years in prison. Judicial authorities in Algeria said they had found him guilty of “inciting unarmed gatherings” and “undermining national unity”.
He was arrested in March 2020 on the sidelines of a street demonstration organized by the “Hirak” – Arabic for “movement” – referring to the massive street protests that rocked Algeria in 2019, leading to the collapse of the government of former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Prior to his arrest, Drareni faced months of threats and intimidation from security officers who accused him of working for the “Hirak”.
At the time, he had been closely following and reporting on the “Hirak”, mostly via his Twitter handle, from the very beginning of the “Hirak”.
In front of the jury during his trial, Drareni stated: “I was only doing my job”.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who swept to power thanks, in large part to the “Hirak” and who granted Drareni presidential pardon without ever mentioning him by name, once hinted that Drareni was a spy for foreign embassies.
In addition to working for the two Algerian private television stations, Drareni also worked as a stringer for the French-Speaking channel TV5 Monde and as a freedom of the press campaigner with the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Reporters Without Borders celebrated his release on Twitter, writing: “Free at last! After 11 months of arbitrary detention for exercising his profession, our correspondent in Algeria, Khaled Drareni, regains the freedom he should never have lost!”.