RSF shocked by British-Algerian journalist’s death in detention
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is shocked and appalled by journalist Mohamed Tamalt’s death in detention in Algiers on 11 December after going on hunger strike in protest against his arrest last June and the two-year jail term he received in July on a charge of insulting the president.
Tamalt, who had dual British and Algerian nationality, had been based in Britain since 2002, where he was the Algerian newspaper El Khabar’s London correspondent. In London, he also created an online newspaper called Assiyak Alarabi (Arab Context) in which he posted content, expressed opinions critical of the government and made provocative comments.
Arrested on 27 June while back in Algeria, he was sentenced by a court in the Algiers district of Sidi M’ahmed on 4 July to two years in prison and a fine of 200,000 dinars under articles 144 (b) and 146 of the criminal code on charges of defaming a public authority and offending President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in videos and poems posted online.
Although diabetic, Tamalt went on hunger in protest against his detention. This had a bad effect on his health and his condition had worsened dramatically in recent weeks.
“This news is a shocking blow for all those who defend freedom of information in Algeria,” said Yasmine Kacha, the head of RSF’s North Africa desk. “The message that this tragic event sends is terrifying. How does one account for the fact Tamalt’s condition was allowed to deteriorate without anything being done? As RSF and other human rights NGOS have already asked, why was such a sentenced imposed for comments on Facebook that put no one in any concrete danger? Lawyers must be allowed to see his medical case file, his family must be given a public apology and an investigation must be launched at once to shed light on what happened.”
Tamalt’s lawyer, Amine Sidhoum, told RSF: “Those responsible must be prosecuted. The deceased’s brother says Mohamed received blows to the head. We and the family plan to request an alternative medical expert opinion, given that we have already filed a complaint with the public prosecutor alleging mistreatment without so far receiving any satisfactory response.”
Algeria’s judicial authorities continue to systematically and wrongfully apply the criminal code to journalists whenever they criticize the regime in their reporting or in the views they express. This violates the new Algerian constitution that was promulgated on 6 March as well as Algeria’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Algeria is ranked 129th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.