Mohamed Tamalt, a British-Algerian journalist, who was initially believed to have died as a result of a hunger strike, actually died of a slow, painful death orchestrated by the Algerian state. A video showing the extent of the beatings he had been the subject of whilst in detention has been leaked this week, footage that discredits Algeria’s official version of events. This article will look at the different facets of this sinister case.
Resident in England since 2002, Mohamed Tamalt wrote articles for the newspaper El Khabar, for which he had long been the London correspondent. He also ran a Facebook page, followed by more than 10,000 people, where he was very critical of Bouteflika’s regime.
Mohamed Tamalt was arrested at Algiers airport on June 27, 2016 and imprisoned for “insulting the institutions and the President of the Republic” following critical publications on his blog and his Facebook page; a vague accusation – amongst others – often used in the country to silence dissidents.
Judged on July 11, 2016, he was sentenced to two years in prison, for “resisting arrest” and “attack on the person of the President of the Republic” in publications on his Facebook account.
His sentence was confirmed on appeal the following month, August 9th, despite the fact that the legislation does not provide for a prison sentence in cases of this nature; rather, a fine is usually the only sanction.
During the appeal, Mohamed Tamalt complained about the violence he had suffered from prison guards.
Doctors contradict the official version
Mohamed Tamalt is believed to have been granted immunity prior to his arrival to Algiers, the journalist was reassured that if he were to come back to Algeria, he would not be bothered by the authorities.
These reassurances turned out to be false promises, upon his arrival to Algiers in June 2016, Mohamed Tamalt was arrested at the airport, his passports – including his British passport – were seized by the authorities and a formal prohibition from leaving the country was issued.
At this point in time, Mohamed Tamalt is put in solitary confinement at the prison of El-Harrach.
Shortly after his incarceration, Tamalt was transferred to the prison of Kolea which happens to fall under the jurisdiction of the wife of the Gendarmerie chief Ghali Belkecir.
Mohamed Tamalt had started a hunger strike to protest his arbitrary incarceration. During his stay at Kolea prison, a complaint had been lodged with the Ministry of Justice against the prison guards who he said were regularly beating him. At the time, the Ministry of Justice led by Tayeb Louh promised an investigation but never actually carried out one.
Three months into the hunger strike, Mohamed Tamalt fell into a coma. Despite the seriousness of his health condition, the ministry of justice painted a rosy picture of Tamalt’s stay at Kolea, including that he was receiving adequate daily medical checks, that he was regularly visited personally by the judge, by his lawyers, by British officials and the penitentiary’s director to convince him to put a stop to the hunger strike. False claims according to the medical staff who treated him.
Tamalt suffered from diabetes, leading to a quick deterioration of his condition, in turn leading to a hypoglycaemic state. Once again the penitentiary’s medical report painted a rosy picture, nothing was wrong with him according to state reports.
A rapid deterioration of Tamat’s health and a loss of consciousness forces the authorities to transfer him urgently to Bab El Oued’s Mayo Hospital, where the doctors reported something completely different to what the judiciary was claiming. Mohamed Tamalt required resuscitation, scans and blood tests were taken. The doctors at Bab El Oued’s hospital find out Mohamed Tamalt experienced a stroke, he is at this point on artificial ventilation. His health somewhat improves before deteriorating again as the doctors discovered a pulmonary infection. According to the official Algerian authorities’ version, Tamalt was allowed visits by British officials, his family and lawyer.
Sources at the hospital started leaking information on Mohamed Tamalt and shared with investigative journalists that:
- Mohamed Tamalt arrived unconscious to the hospital, contrary to the version put forward by state officials;
- Mohamed Tamalt was accompanied by 3 prison guards in addition to 3 police officers.
- Mohamed Tamalt had a 10-12 centimetres hematoma on his head
The treating neurosurgeon at Bab El Oued’s hospital, Dr. Touati leaked to the press what has really happened upon Mohamed Tamalt’s arrival. Mohamed Tamalt needed an urgent surgery, but the police officers present refused to allow Mohamed Tamalt into the operating theatre, citing a requirement to be present at all times with the prisoner as the reason. At this point, the doctor is forced to carry out the surgery in a regular patient room, an environment likely contaminated, knowing the poor state of affairs Algerian public hospitals have been in since the 80s.
The ministry of justice is alleged to have issued a false autopsy report according to sources at the hospital; according to the official report there was no negligence or mistreatment by the penitentiary. An autopsy report subsequently rejected Mohamed Tamalt’s family. The same sources leaked to the press that Mohamed Tamalt was never allowed visits, not even from his lawyers or British consular officials, as a matter of fact, witnesses recalled how his mother had waited a whole week outside the hospital without being allowed to see her son.
Hospital staff also stated that they were routinely searched for recording devices, anything deemed suspicious was confiscated by the police officers present. One doctor stated that he was manhandled for using his phone’s torch to check on Mohamed Tamalt’s eyes.
The prison guards themselves admitted to the hospital staff that Tamalt was severely beaten up by prison guards, this in order to dissuade him from carrying on with the hunger strike.
According to investigative journalist Abdou Semmar, currently in exile in France, the time of death was altered too, allegedly on the order of minister of justice Tayeb Louh, with the treating doctors stating that Mohamed Tamalt died 24 hours before the time put forward by the authorities.
Mohamed Tamalt’s medical report, which includes scans, blood tests and other medical assessments, has been classified by the Algerian authorities and no one has been able to access it.
An awfully quiet Boris Johnson
At the time, Boris Johnson had just become the Foreign Secretary and unsurprisingly, the British embassy in Algiers never questioned the official reports nor did it complain about the death of a dual British citizen, or the inability of its consular officers to visit the prisoner. This is most likely justified by the British oil and gas interests in the country.
By uncovering the truth of Britain’s role in this disgraceful manslaughter, the family of the defunct can finally make peace with the death of their son.
Only a full public enquiry in Britain can force the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to cooperate fully. An enquiry the Algiers Herald will lobby for in the upcoming months.