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Algeria: British-Algerian journalist dies on hunger strike

Wednesday 14 December 2016 - 2:27pm

14 December 2016 - PEN International is saddened to learn of the death of British-Algerian journalist Mohamed Tamalt. According to reports, he died in an Algerian hospital on 11 December 2016, allegedly from a lung infection for which he had been receiving treatment. He had been on hunger strike since 27 June in protest against his arrest. He was hospitalized after he slipped into a coma in August.

Tamalt was sentenced on 11 July 2016 to two years in prison and a fine of 200,000 Algerian dinars (around US$ 1800) for ‘offending the President’ and ‘defaming a public authority’, in connection with his Facebook posts, including a video he shared on 2 April 2016 which showed a poem alongside images of the President, deemed offensive. He was charged under articles 144, 144 bis and 146 of the Algerian Penal Code.

Tamalt should never have been jailed for Facebook posts peacefully expressing his views,’ said Jennifer Clement, PEN International President. ‘My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with his friends, family and colleagues.’

PEN International believes that freedom of expression includes the right to offend, particularly within the context of thoughts and opinions relating to public officials.  The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which oversees the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Algeria is a state party, has made clear that the ‘mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties’. Human rights bodies have also pointed out that heads of state and public figures should tolerate a higher degree of criticism than ordinary citizens. PEN International believes that laws which treat defamation and insult as a criminal rather than a civil offence are incompatible with freedom of expression and severely undermine the democratic rights of the media and citizens to hold their governments to account.