An Algerian court on Thursday sentenced 49 people to death for lynching a man falsely accused of starting deadly forest fires last year, state news agency APS reported.
The victim, 38-year-old painter Djamel Ben Ismail, was under police protection in a police van in August 2021 when a mob “dragged him out, beat him and burned him, leading to his death,” the local prosecutor said recently. year.
Ben Ismail turned himself in at a police station when he learned he was suspected of arson, at the height of fires that killed at least 90 people across the country.
Victim Djamel Ben Ismail, whose friend described him as “an artist, a young man who loves guitar and loves life…not a violent man”
Smoke rises from the wildfire in the town of Beni Douala in the Tizi Ouzou province of northern Algeria on August 11, 2021
It later emerged that Ben Ismail had gone to the region as a volunteer to help put out the fires.
He had tweeted earlier on the day of his death that he was heading to the scene of the wildfires, 200 miles from his home, to “give our friends a hand” in fighting the fires.
When he arrived near the town of Larbaa Nath Irathen in the Tizi Ouzou district, one of the hardest hit by the fires, a mob of local residents accused him of being an arsonist, his father said last year.
‘My son left to help his brothers from Kabyle, a region he loves. They burned him alive… I am devastated,” Noureddine Ben Ismail added.
The victim’s father was widely praised for calling for calm and “brotherhood” among Algerians despite his son’s murder.
Medics carry away a man’s body during a forest fire in Tizi Ouzou, one of the most populous towns in Algeria’s Kabylie region, on August 10, 2021
An injured man watches during a forest fire in Tizi Ouzou, one of the most populous towns in Algeria’s Kabylie region, on August 10, 2021
On August 13, 2021, a French plane pours water on a fire near the village of Toudja, in the Kabyle region, east of Algiers.
Police officers who intervened to protect and assist the victim were also injured, the prosecutor added.
The North African country has maintained a moratorium on carrying out death sentences since the last executions in 1993, indicating the seriousness of the incident.
A court in Dar El Beida on Thursday “sentenced 49 people to execution for the murder of (Ben Ismail) and mutilation of his body,” the APS news agency reported.
The court also imposed 28 other defendants with prison terms ranging from two years to 10 years without parole, APS said.
After a video was posted online of Ben Ismail’s lynching, “showing the murder of a civilian (burned to death and beaten),” an investigation was launched, with the country’s president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, asking authorities to “give light throw on the murder.
Amnesty International also called on Algerian authorities to immediately investigate the death and “send a clear signal that this violence will not go unpunished.”
On August 11, 2021, a forest burns near the village of Larbaa Nath Irathen, just Tizi Ouzou, in the mountainous region of Kabyle, 95 kilometers east of Algiers, the capital of Algeria.
Burnt trees are pictured near Tizi Ouzou following wildfires in this mountainous region, on August 10, 2021
Ben Ismail was buried in his hometown of Khemis Miliana, 71 miles west of Algiers.
“Do you realize they even tortured him to death?” Mohamed Khalfi, Ben Ismail’s maternal uncle, told The Associated Press.
“And what hurts me is that people were filming. I am his uncle and I ask that justice do its work and that even those who watched without doing anything be judged.’
One of Ben Ismail’s friends, Rafik, who did not give his last name, said he was “an artist, a young man who loves the guitar and loves life… not a violent man.”
The fires were caused by a blistering heat wave, but authorities also blamed arsonists and “criminals” for the outbreaks.
They also blamed the independence movement of the Berber-majority Kabylie region, which stretches along the Mediterranean coast east of Algiers.