Sunday, May 9, 2021

Algeria releases senior officials jailed during mass protests | Middle East News

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Two former security chiefs and the younger brother of former President Bouteflika were sentenced to 15 years in prison in September 2019.

An Algerian military appeals court on Saturday acquitted three senior officials jailed in 2019 during mass protests, sources close to those responsible said.

The three – two former security chiefs and the younger brother of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika – were sentenced to 15 years in prison in September 2019 for conspiring against the state.

Presidential aide Said Bouteflika has long been seen as the real power ruling the North African country after his brother suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013.

But he was arrested in May 2019, a month after the former president stepped down following mass protests against his candidacy for a fifth term.

Said was sentenced along with two former intelligence chiefs to 15 years in prison for “conspiring” against the military and the state, and in February, a military court upheld the ruling.

But in November, the Supreme Court said they would be retried after the appeals.

“After deliberation, the court … overturned the initial decision and acquitted all the defendants,” lawyer Khaled Berghel told the official APS news agency.

Despite being cleared, Bouteflika remains in detention and will be transferred to another prison as he awaits a separate trial for alleged corruption during his brother’s reign, a court official said.

The imprisonment of those responsible marked an apparent success for the mass protest movement “Hirak” which took to the streets in early 2019, prompting the army to remove Bouteflika in April of the same year after 20 years in power.

But many Hirak residents said their uprising had yet to meet its goals of eliminating the old ruling elite, forcing the military out of politics and ending corruption when the coronavirus pandemic hit. ended their weekly protests last March.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in December 2019 in a vote that protesters decried as a sham, sought to appease the Hirak by praising the movement as a moment of national renewal and introducing some constitutional changes.

But many supporters of the leaderless Hirak movement have dismissed these movements as a mere cosmetic change despite the high status of some of those imprisoned.

“We still want a radical change of the whole regime,” said Rachid Hamani, a figure in Hirak.

Mohamed Mediene, who wielded vast power as the head of secret security known to his compatriots by the nickname Tewfic, was released by acquittal on Saturday.

“Military justice has rejected the conspiracy theory against Tewfic. It’s good, ”said a source close to Mediene. His less influential successor, Bashir Tartag was also acquitted but remains in prison awaiting corruption charges in a civilian court, the sources said.

Dozens of other figures close to Bouteflika, including prominent business leaders and less powerful officials, remain in prison.



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