Algerian authorities have released over 50 Hirak movement activists from prison including several prominent leaders, as per reports on Thursday, March 31. The anti-establishment Hirak protests had successfully overthrown the regime of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019. As per the National Commission for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), at least 51 detainees have been released from prison, including several who were indicted on serious criminal charges and some who were serving sentences after being convicted.
In a statement to news outlets, CNLD coordinator Kaci Tansaout said that they are updating the list of released prisoners as they are made aware of their release. The updated list includes well-known names such as human rights defenders Zaki Hannache and Chems Eddine Laalami, also known as Brahim, among others. Reports said that the prisoners were released in several batches starting Wednesday, with 10 prisoners released that day and the rest the next day. Hannache was jailed in February this year on charges of “apology for terrorist acts” and “dissemination of false information.” Laalami was detained in July 2021 and was sentenced to six years in prison for social media posts criticizing the government and advocating for the Hirak protests. The 30-year-old tailor had reportedly participated in demonstrations in February 2019 in Bordj Bou Arreridj in northeast Algeria to oppose the candidacy of Bouteflika for a fifth presidential term.
The prisoners were reportedly released without any prior information or notice given either to them or their lawyers or families. Several commentators and social media users have related this sudden mass release of prisoners to the visit of US secretary of state Antony Blinken. Many have also expressed concern that this may be a temporary release and that the activists could be thrown back in prison at any time.
The Algerian government authorities are yet to confirm whether the release is just a temporary reprieve or if the sentences or indictments against the prisoners have also been commuted. Commentators are calling the move politically motivated, much like the arrests and detention. Yassad Mabrouk, the head of the Judicial Syndicate of Algeria, said on social media that “imprisoning people w/o strong justifications for that is unjust and arbitrary, and releasing a prisoner based on whims or appeasement increases the distortion of the images of the judiciary.”
According to CNLD statistics, prior to the recent releases, around 300 Algerians were being held in prison on politically motivated charges for participating in the Hirak movement or criticizing the ruling establishment. The Algerian government has consistently denied detaining people for being Hirak leaders and supporters, and other activists, journalists, lawyers, bloggers and political figures for malafide reasons. However, human rights and prisoners rights groups have regularly released reports and statements documenting arbitrary and illegal detentions by the authorities over the last few years. According to Amnesty, many of these arrests are carried out after the authorities accuse the individuals of being “terrorists”, of having links to “illegal” organizations, and other similarly vague and malicious charges in an attempt to intimidate and persecute them, ultimately to force them into silence.