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Canadian jailed in Algeria released after appeal reduces sentence

Raouf Farrah still hoping to get conviction for publishing secret information overturned
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Raouf Farrah is shown in this undated handout photo. A Canadian researcher whose conviction on criminal charges in Algeria was criticized by human rights groups has been released from prison after an appeals court reduced his sentence.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Farrah family

A Canadian researcher whose criminal conviction in Algeria was criticized by human rights groups was released from prison Thursday after an appeal court reduced his sentence.

“I’m feeling good, honestly, a little tired from the procedures of getting out of prison, but overall, I’m feeling good,” Raouf Farrah said in a phone interview shortly after his release.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing my daughter again, my wife, to eat with my parents, to talk, to reunite with my family — the simple things in life.”

Farrah, a former Montreal resident who studies migration and criminal economies for an international non-governmental organization, was convicted earlier this year of publishing secret information and being paid to commit offences against public order. He has been detained since February.

Human Rights Watch and Farrah’s employer, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, have condemned the charges as being without merit. His release came after a court in the eastern Algerian city of Constantine reduced his sentence from two years to eight months.

Farrah said he tried to make the best of his time in prison. “I think anyone who has their freedom taken away automatically finds themselves in what I would say is an uncomfortable situation, but I did everything I could to stay calm, focused and motivated,” he said.

Kouceila Zerguine, Farrah’s lawyer, said he is now seeking to have his client’s conviction reviewed by the Supreme Court of Algeria. “This isn’t a victory, we’re relieved by the fact that he’s been released, but the conviction remains,” Zerguine said in a phone interview.

The Global Initiative said in a news release Thursday that it welcomes the sentence reduction — though it reiterated that Farrah should never have been convicted.

Farrah’s wife, Lara Pocock, said she feels like a weight has been lifted off her chest. Pocock said she feared that Farrah’s sentence would be upheld at the appeal hearing and had remained at their home in neighbouring Tunisia, planning to visit him in prison on Monday.

“The feeling is really relief and pure joy,” she said in a phone interview. “I had prepared myself for the worst case scenario. I didn’t want to be once again harbouring false hopes and then being too sad today.”

She said she is looking forward to being reunited with Farrah soon and is excited that their four-year-old daughter will see her father for the first time since February.

Born in Algeria, Farrah moved to Canada when he was 18. He lived in Montreal, where he studied at the Université de Montréal, before getting a master’s degree at the University of Ottawa.

READ ALSO: Algeria jails Canadian researcher for ‘publishing secret information’