Over 100 political prisoners freed in Algeria

Prior to yesterday’s mass release, over 300 political prisoners were being detained by the Algerian government for supporting or participating in the anti-government Hirak protests or other opposition groups

July 15, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Algeria political prisoners freed
Families of freed prisoners in front of the El Harrach prison. (Photo: Said Salhi/Facebook)

The Algerian government, on Wednesday, July 14 ordered the release of 101 people associated with the anti-establishment Hirak protests who were being held under detention. Several Hirak protesters have been arrested or detained for participating and supporting the anti-government protests which started in 2019. The majority of the protesters whose release was ordered on Wednesday were arrested just before the legislative elections on July 12. A similar measure to release 18 protesters was taken on the occasion of the Algerian Independence day.

A statement released by the Algerian presidency on Wednesday said that “on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the president of the republic has decided to pardon 30 detainees with a final verdict and 71 others who did not receive a sentence due to their activities during the protests by the Hirak Movement.” 

The Hirak protesters had decided to boycott the June 12 elections. The movement’s weekly Friday protests called upon Algerians to shun the elections, something which the government of Abdelmadjid Tebboune viewed as a serious threat to its legitimacy. In the weeks preceding the elections, the government initiated a massive crackdown on the protesters and the opposition, detaining close to 2,000 people. Despite this, the final voter turnout stood at a dismal 23% – even lower than the previous elections.

Said Salhi, vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH), said on his Twitter account that 46 out of the 101 detainees had already left the prison last night. He welcomed the release and called upon the government to release all other remaining prisoners of conscience. According to him, yesterday’s act of clemency remains insufficient if it does not extend to all other prisoners of conscience. He added that the government must also put an end to the ongoing campaign of repression and arbitrary arrests. According to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), prior to Wednesday’s announcement, over 300 political prisoners were being held in jail for supporting or participating in the Hirak movement or other opposition groups.

Salhi also urged the government to withdraw and repeal article 87 of the penal code, which has been extensively used for the arrests. Article 87 contains clauses relating to acts including “act of terrorism or sabotage”, “any act aimed at the national security, unity and stability of government institutions”, “act or incitement to gain power or change the system of governance by unconstitutional means” and “acts that undermine the integrity of the national territory”. The article also provides for a national database of terrorist individuals and organizations identified by the government. The authorities have often used this act to target and judicially persecute Hirak leaders, protesters, and other opposition figures. Salhi said that occasional token acts of clemency are meaningless without the government ending its persecution of the opposition and the Hirak movement, and opening up the country’s political climate to be more democratic and transparent.