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Algeria Releases Key Hirak Leader

Algeria Releases Key Hirak Leader

Friday, 3 July, 2020 - 07:00
FILE PHOTO: Protesters march during an anti-government demonstration in Algiers, Algeria January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
Asharq Al-Awsat

Algeria on Thursday provisionally released a key protest movement leader, Karim Tabbou, and three other jailed activists ahead of the country's independence day.

Tabbou, 47, is one of the most prominent if not best-known figure of "Hirak" -- a movement that forced the downfall last April of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

He walked out of Kolea jail, west of Algiers in the afternoon, an AFP correspondent said.

He was accompanied by activists Amira Bouraoui and Samir Benlarbi who were seen leaving the same prison after also being granted provisional releases.

Bouraoui embraced her family, while her two companions draped her with Algerian flags. A small crowd shouted pro-Hirak slogans.

"Our happiness is not complete. In leaving, I left two brothers in prison," Benlarbi said briefly.

Among the best known "Hirak" figures behind bars is journalist Khaled Drareni, head of the information website Casbah Tribune and correspondent for French television channel Tv5Monde. His request for release was rejected.

A fourth activist Slimane Hamitouche "has already gone home", said one of his lawyers, Abderahmane Salah.

Tabbou, jailed in September 2019, was serving a one-year sentence for an "attack on the integrity of national territory".

He also faces a charge of "damaging the morale of the army", in a trial which has been postponed to September 14.

Abdellah Benadouda, founder of the US-based pro-Hirak Radio Corona Internationale, said the next step would be to "liberate the justice" system in Algeria.

Bouraoui's lawyer said Bouraoui was also freed provisionally, pending another appeal hearing on September 24.

She was sentenced to a one-year jail term on June 21 for a string of charges, including "offending" the president and Islam as well as for "incitement" to violate coronavirus confinement regulations.

Sosiane Djilali, head of an opposition party, said a month ago that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had told him in a meeting he would "ensure that Karim Tabbou and Samir Benlarbi regain their freedom".

Benlarbi, a media personality, had been held in preventive detention.

Also ahead of the July 5 anniversary of Algeria's 1962 independence from France, Tebboune on Wednesday pardoned six prisoners, including three linked to Hirak.

Weekly anti-government protests rocked Algeria for more than a year and only came to a halt in March due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, with the authorities banning marches -- although the opposition had already stopped gathering, due to concerns about the virus.

But the Algerian government continues to target opponents, journalists, independent media and internet users.

According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), almost 70 people are currently detained on charges linked to the protest movement, mostly over Facebook posts.

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