Algerian opposition figure and leader of the leftist Democratic and Social Movement (MDS) party, Fethi Ghares, was granted an early release from prison on Tuesday, March 22, as per prisoners’ rights group National Commission for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD). Ghares was arrested in June 2021 and sentenced to a two-year jail term in January on charges of insulting the head of state, inciting an unarmed assembly, contempt for a legal authority, and dissemination of information that could harm the national interest.
According to reports, 47-year-old Ghares left the Al Harrach prison after the Algiers Court of Appeal awarded him a revised sentence of one year in prison, including six months suspended, during an appeal trial which began on March 8 and concluded on March 22. The prosecution at the trial had requested a three-year prison sentence for Ghares.
Ghares was active in the anti-establishment Hirak protests, which first started in 2019 against then president Abdelaziz Bouteflika following his announcement of seeking a fifth consecutive presidential term. The nationwide protests ultimately forced Bouteflika to resign and ended his authoritarian regime after almost 30 years in power. The weekly Hirak demonstrations continued against the subsequent government with protesters demanding substantial structural political and economic reforms.
Protesters demanded the ouster of all politicians, army officials, and business elites from the Bouteflika era who continued to hold important positions of power. Even though several members of the former regime, including prime ministers and other ministers, have since been prosecuted for corruption and sentenced, there are many who have escaped any prosecution.
Following his release, Ghares said, “I leave a confrontation for another. In detention, I faced arbitrary imprisonment and when I get out, I will face a bigger prison, namely the political system. I would like to remind you that we are campaigning for an end to injustice, but also to build an Algeria that is the mecca of freedoms.”
According to data released by the CNLD, over 300 Algerians are still being detained in prison for their participation or links with the Hirak movement or for their involvement in other related campaigns advocating for civil liberties and human rights. Successive governments in the post-Bouteflika era, including the current government under president Abdelmadjid Tebboune, have continued to crack down on the Hirak protests by various means. Some such measures include laws banning unauthorized protests, defaming the movement in public, and security forces violently suppressing demonstrations with thousands of arrests targeting Hirak leaders and supporters. The breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the weekly demonstrations to stop for some time. The government has since used COVID-19-related restrictions to ban public gatherings and protests.