ALGIERS, 19 February 2021 – A dozen pro-democracy activists were released from jail Friday in Algeria, the first batch of persons released after presidential pardons.

In a speech late Thursday, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced dozens of pardons.

Algerian President Tebboune - Photo The New York Times

President Tebboune – Photo The New York Times

Tebboune seeks to appease pro-democracy campaigners who have expressed disappointment at his government’s failure to reform.

The National Committee for the Liberation of Prisoners (CNLD), a rights group, confirmed the releases on Friday, explaining that more are to follow.

Detainees and prisoners freed Friday left the Kolea prison, situated in the western part of the capital Algiers.

One of the prisoners that many observers, rights groups and media watch groups are hoping is included among those pardoned  is journalist Khaled Drareni, who was sentenced to two years in prison last September.

Drareni was a correspondent for the French television network, TV5 Monde, and also worked for the media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders.

Algerian Journalist Khaled Drareni - Photo MENA Solidarity Network

Algerian Journalist Khaled Drareni – Photo MENA Solidarity Network

Since his imprisonment, he has become a symbol of the fight for press freedom in Algeria.

The pardons and release of detainees and prisoners come ahead of the second anniversary, next Fenbruary 22, of the massive street protests known as “Hirak” that swept the former Algerian government out of power in 2019.

“Hirak_ – Arabic for “movement” – is gathering steam anew with nationwide street protests called for Monday to commemorate the start of the 2019 “Hirak”.

Rights groups estimate that about 70 people are in jails and prisons in Algeria for their role in the 2019 “Hirak”.

Arrest of an Hirak Member - Photo The Middle East Eye

Arrest of an Hirak Member – Photo The Middle East Eye

In his speech, Tebboune said around 55 to 60 “Hirak” members were included among those he had pardoned.

The chances are great that Drareni is not among those pardoned, given that he awaits his case being ruled on next February 25 by the country’s Supreme Court.

Last Tuesday, the first protests in the 2021 “Hirak” held in the northern town of Kherrata and participants called, among others, for “the fall of the regime” and “the release of prisones of conscience”.

On Thursday, Tebboune called for the dissolution of parliament and for early legislative elections which should have held in 2022.

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

“Democracy is not limited to elections but to the exercise of democratic freedoms,” said Said Salhi, from the Algerian League for Human Rights.

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