A British-Algerian journalist has died after being on hunger strike in protest against his arrest and two-year jail term, which put him in a coma, according to his lawyer.
Mohamed Tamalt was convicted in an Algerian court of “defaming a public authority” and “offending” Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a poem he posted on Facebook.
“I can confirm the death of the journalist Mohamed Tamalt in Bab el-Oued hospital after a hunger strike of more than three months and a three-month coma,” Amine Sidhoum, Tamalt’s lawyer, wrote on Facebook on Sunday.
Tamalt, 42, died of a lung infection while in a coma. Before his arrest, he ran a blog and was a freelance journalist based in London.
He was reportedly arrested near his parents’ house in Algiers on June 27 and began his hunger strike the same day.
On July 11, he was sentenced to two years in prison and given a $1,800 fine. An appellate court upheld the sentence a month later.
Rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders had urged the Algerian government to drop the charges and release Tamalt, expressing particular concern over his health after he had fallen into a coma in August.
Brahim Mahdid, spokesman for Amnesty International in Algeria, called for “a full, transparent, and independent investigation into Mohamed Tamalt’s death.
“So far, we can’t say for sure what the cause of his death was,” Mahdid told Al Jazeera. “Nor are we sure if Tamalt received the proper treatment during his hunger strike.”
According to Mahdid: “Tamalt’s detention occurred while Algeria’s media companies were facing increasing pressure. The situation has [since] not improved, as the country’s independent media organisations still [operate in] a hostile environment.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Tamalt’s lawyer Amine Sidhoum said that Tamalt’s death was “the first time since Algeria gained its independence from France that a journalist died in jail because of what he wrote on the Internet.
“Mohamed’s death is a shame for our country,” Sidhoum added. “I am also really sad at the lack of support from his fellow Algerian journalists, who left him and abandoned him.”
According to Sidhoum, Tamalt is set to be buried in Algiers on Monday.
“It is time to say a last goodbye and pray. We are in mourning, but we, his family and lawyers, will figure out in the following days what we can do to find out exactly what happened to him [while he was] in prison.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch called the death of Tamalt “tragic”.
“It is tragic that a journalist in Algeria died on a hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment.” Sarah Leah Whitson, the rights group’s Middle East and North Africa director said in a statement.
Djamila Ould Khettab contributed to this report.