Algerian online activist’s jail term cut to one year

algerian online activists jail term cut to one year

Algerian demonstrators chant slogans during a demonstration in the capital Algiers on February 28, 2020. © Ryad Kramdi, AFP (file photo)

An activist with Algeria’s Hirak protest movement had a three-year prison sentence for publishing online memes mocking authorities and religion reduced to one year on appeal, his lawyer said Sunday.

With time already served, Walid Kechida, 25, was set to leave custody later in the day.

Kechida was sentenced on January 4 to three years’ prison for insulting President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and “offending the precepts” of Islam in memes published on Facebook and in other online posts.

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Having appealed the sentence by a court in Algeria’s northeastern Setif province, one of his lawyers, Fouad Betka, told AFP the defence team had “anticipated a release, as Walid Kechida did nothing to merit jail time”. 

The lawyer said that on appeal the activist “was sentenced to one year in prison, six months of which is suspended, and a fine of 30,000 dinars ($225)”. 

Kechida would be released from prison on Sunday, having been in detention since April 27 last year.

“Relief. He is leaving prison today after nine months in detention and a conviction based on an empty case and unfounded charges,” said the vice president of the Algerian League for Human Rights, Said Salhi, on Twitter. 

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The group and Amnesty International had called for Kechida’s release and for all charges against him to be dropped. 

The case against the activist, who administered the “Hirak Memes” Facebook page, has been seen as emblematic of a crackdown against free speech, particularly online, by Algerian authorities in the past year.

Prisoners’ rights group CNLD says around 80 people, including activists, social media users and journalists, are currently in custody in connection with the country’s anti-government protest movement or individual liberties — mostly for dissenting social media posts.

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The Hirak movement first launched vast street demonstrations in early 2019 to oppose then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office. 

Bouteflika resigned in April that year, but protesters kept up the pressure, demanding a full overhaul of the ruling system in place since the North African nation’s 1962 independence from France.

However, social distancing necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic meant that protesters had to halt their street rallies early last year.

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