An Algerian Court has upheld a two year sentence against a British Algerian man accused of ‘insulting the President’ in an online poem.
London-based journalist, Mohamed Tamalt posted a video to his Facebook page featuring a poem found by the Algerian Courts to be offensive to the country’s 79 year old President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Tamalt was originally arrested in June while visiting his parents’ home near Algiers. Later that month an investigative judge in the Court of the First Instance in Sidi Mhamed, near the capital ordered his detention on the grounds of “defaming a public authority.” During a later court appearance on July 11, officials added charges of offending a public official, which carry a sentence of up to two years in prison. Tamalt was subsequently found guilty on both charges and received the two year sentence, plus a 200,000 dinars (US$1,800) fine.
Lawyer Amine Sidhoum, representing Tamalt, confirmed yesterday that the higher Court in Algiers had upheld the sentence and that he now intends to appeal directly to the President for a pardon.
Human rights groups have been quick to condemn Tamalt’s sentence, who is understood to be in critical condition following a 44 day hunger strike. In a statement released on the group’s web page, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch said, “No speech is safe in Algeria if a poem on Facebook can get you two years in prison….Jailing people for allegedly insulting or offending public officials is unjust and threatens anyone seeking to comment on issues of the day.”
Under Article 48 of the Algerian constitution, revised in March of this year, the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed. It states that media freedom is not subject to prior censorship and that offenses cannot be punished by prison.
Tamalt has lived in the United Kingdom since 2002, where he published his online journal, Assiyak Alarabi (“Arabic Context”). Tamalt previously wrote articles for the Algerian daily Al-Khabar.