Algeria to release 2 protest leaders: opposition politician


Algiers (AFP)

Two main figures of Algeria's "Hirak" protest movement will soon be freed at the president's initiative, the leader of an opposition party said Tuesday.

"President Abdelmadjid Tebboune assured me that he would use his constitutional prerogative to ensure that Karim Tabbou and Samir Benlarbi regain their freedom," Sosiane Djilali told AFP.

"It's solemn commitment on his part," said the Jil Jadid party leader after a meeting with Tebboune that he had requested to discuss the two cases.

"Mr Tebboune pointed out that he will not interfere directly in what concerns the judiciary," Djilali said.

In the Algerian judicial system, the president has the right to pardon prisoners.

In principle, that right applies only to those whose convictions are final, such as Tabbou, a veteran opposition figure serving a one-year term for an "attack on the integrity of national territory".

As for Benlarbi, he has been held in preventive detention since March 7.

"I think they have paid enough. It's very good for them to regain their freedom and go back home," Djilali said.

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 suspended its gatherings.

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

According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), some 60 people are currently detained on charges linked to the protest movement.

After causing the downfall of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power last April, the Hirak movement has continued demanding an overhaul of Algeria's governance system, which has been in place since independence from France in 1962.