Death of man jailed for insulting Algeria's president

Mohamed Tamalt: insulted president on Facebook

The death was reported today of Mohamed Tamalt who had been serving a two-year jail sentence in Algeria for insulting President Bouteflika on Facebook.

Tamalt, 42, who had dual British and Algerian nationality and had been living in Britain before his imprisonment, was arrested on June 27 while visiting relatives in Algeria. His Facebook page, which was generally critical of the Algerian regime, included a video recitation of a poem which the authorities considered insulting to the 79-year-old president.

He first appeared in court on June 28, charged with “offending the president” and “defaming a public authority”. Under Algeria's penal code neither of these "crimes" can be punished with a prison sentence – only fines – but the judge nevertheless ordered him to be detained while awaiting a full trial.

On July 4 the court rejected an application for bail – prompting his lawyers to walk out in protest.

On July 11 the authorities added a further charge of "offence against a public official" which, unlike the two previous charges, can be punished with imprisonment. Tamalat was then tried and convicted on the same day and sentenced to the maximum penalty of two years imprisonment, plus a fine of 200,000 dinars (about $1,800).

While in prison, Tamalt, who had diabetes, started a hunger strike and in September was reported to have been transferred to hospital after becoming critically ill.

According to the French-language website Tout sur l'Algérie, he died earlier today at Lamine Debaghine hospital in the Bab El Oued district of Algiers. His lawyer, Amine Sidhoum, was quoted as saying: "He was in a coma, there was a block on his medical records. We know nothing. That's the tragedy."