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Lawyers demand urgent independent investigation into death of Berber activist

LAWYERS in Algeria have demanded an urgent and independent investigation into the death of Berber rights activist Kamal Eddine Fekhar, who died last month after staying on hunger strike for 50 days.

The Council of Lawyers of Bejaia made a public statement, saying it “denounces and deplores the tragic death of Dr Kamal Eddine Fekhar in inhumane conditions.”

It called for the creation of an independent commission of inquiry “to determine the causes and the perpetrators of this tragedy.”

Dr Fekhar was arrested in March on charges of “undermining state security” and taken into pre-trial detention.

His health rapidly deteriorated after he started a hunger strike in April in protest at his arbitrary arrest amid claims of medical negligence.

He died on May 28 after being transferred from prison in Ghardaia, 300 miles south of the capital Algiers, to Frantz Fanon hospital in Blida.

Dr Fekhar led a struggle for the rights of Algeria’s Berber minority, which has been subjected to generations of oppression and persecution with its language and customs previously banned by the authorities.

The 1980 Berber Spring saw a two-month wave of strikes and demonstrations across schools, universities and businesses in the Kabyle region.

It was violently put down by the Algerian authorities, but the Berber rights movement revived following the toppling of Middle Eastern regimes as part of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011.

Dr Fekhar was detained after criticising the military, parliament and judiciary amid ongoing repression of journalists, trade unionists and lawyers, which has intensified since massive anti-government protests began in February.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika stood down as president in April after nearly 20 years in power and protesters are continuing to demand that all those associated with the former regime be swept aside.

Elections planned for July 4, which had no popular support, were scrapped last week.

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