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Belgian Algerian dies after arrest, sparking outrage and concern

Akram's death has drawn parallels with the case of George Floyd in the US, and has prompted Algeria's embassy in Belgium to intervene
Akram, 29, was seen in footage posted online handcuffed to the ground before paramedics arrived to resuscitate the unresponsive man (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP)

The death of a 29-year-old man of Algerian descent in Belgium on Sunday, after being subjected to a forceful police arrest, has provoked a number of angry reactions online and accusations the officers involved were responsible.

A video of the man's arrest in Antwerp was posted on social media shortly after his arrest and quickly gained traction after news of his death surfaced later that night. He has only been identified as Akram.

The hashtags #JusticeForAkram and #MurderInAntwerp have since been trending in Belgium.

According to Antwerp police spokesman Sven Lommaert, police were called to the cafe Akram was at after he became “very agitated” and behaved aggressively “trying to hit people” and throw furniture. Lommaert denied the use of force by the arresting officers.

When police arrived at the scene, they found that Akram had a head injury and appeared to be “under the influence” of narcotics, Lommaert said.

The footage showed policemen pinning the handcuffed Akram to the ground as passersby watched the struggle. By the time the ambulance arrived 12 minutes later, Akram was described as “no longer reacting”, at which point paramedics attempted to resuscitate him before he was transported to the Middelheim hospital. 

However, Akram’s mother refuted the police’s version of the events that say he was under the influence of drugs, releasing a video on Twitter of her son filmed earlier in the day and prior to his arrest. According to the mother, the video demonstrates that Akram was stable. She was not at the scene when Akram was arrested.

"These are my child's last moments with his mother! My son was not a drug addict! My son was murdered by the Antwerp police!” she wrote in the tweet. 

In a video posted online yesterday, Akram’s mother is seen telling a gathering of people that police lied to her by failing to reveal the true cause of death and demanding the law be applied to the killers.

"I touched my son. He was cold. He had bruises here and here," she said pointing to her forehead, neck and arm. "I am fully asking the Belgian state to tell me the truth. I don't need to cause any problems."

"I don't know why he's dead exactly ... my son was a good son who loved his mother," she added.

Akram's death has drawn parallels with the case of George Floyd in the US, who died in May after a police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes, sparking global protests. 

The Antwerp Public Prosecutor's Office has ordered a judicial investigation into the “exact circumstances of the arrest and death of the man”.

The Algerian ambassador to Brussels, Amar Belani, reassured Akram’s family that he “will be following very closely the developments of this tragic case which has greatly moved the members of our community and beyond”.

"The viewing of the videos, including those circulating on social networks and their cross-checking with the results of the autopsy will, I hope, shed light on the few shadows that surround this heartbreaking case," Belani said.