Algerian authorities freed an imprisoned journalist and more than 30 other pro-democracy activists on Friday in a conciliatory gesture ahead of the second anniversary of their Hirak protest movement.
Chanting "Free and Democratic Algeria," dozens of people gathered at the prison where journalist and activist Khaled Drareni had been held in Kolea, west of the capital Algiers. Standing behind a police cordon, they cheered his release.
"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," Drareni said after his release.
Drareni was imprisoned for "inciting an unarmed gathering" and "endangering national unity," charges linked to his coverage of the protest movement. His arrest drew criticism outside Algeria as a threat to press freedom.
Drareni founded the Casbah Tribune news site and worked for French TV channel TV5 Monde, among others, as well as for the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
"I’m brought to tears, Khaled has just been freed!" said Mahrez Rabia, a friend and radio journalist.
The Hirak movement helped push out Algeria’s long-serving former president in 2019 and inspire new efforts to fight corruption. But protesters demand deeper change to Algeria’s secretive power structure, and new demonstrations were expected on Monday to mark two years since the birth of their movement.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced this week he was pardoning 33 activists, reshuffling the government and dissolving parliament to hold early elections, partly in response to protesters’ demands.
The justice minister said on Ennahar television that Drareni was released as part of outreach by the president on the anniversary. The Justice Ministry said the activists were all being pardoned for "their activities on social networks or public gatherings".
Tebboune said that up to 56 or 57 activists would be released overall.