An Algerian court sentenced 49 people to death on Thursday for the lynching of 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 outside, beat him and set him on fire, resulting in his death “, said the local prosecutor. year.
Ben Ismail had gone to a police station after learning he was suspected of arson, at the height of the blazes that have killed at least 90 people across the country.
Victim Djamel Ben Ismail, whose friend described him as ‘an artist, a young man who loves the guitar and loves life… not a violent man’
Smoke rises from the forest fire in the city of Beni Douala, in the province of Tizi Ouzou, in the north of Algeria, on August 11, 2021
It later emerged that Ben Ismail had traveled to the area as a volunteer to help put out the fires.
Earlier in the day of his death, he had tweeted that he was going to the scene of the wildfires, 200 miles from his home, to “help our friends” fight the fires.
When he arrived near the town of Larbaa Nath Irathen in the district of Tizi Ouzou, one of the most affected by the fires, a crowd of residents accused him of being an arsonist, his father said. last year.
“My son left to help his brothers in Kabyle, a region he loves. They burned him alive… I am devastated,” added Noureddine Ben Ismail.
The victim’s father was widely praised for calling for calm and “brotherhood” among Algerians despite his son’s murder.
Doctors carry away the body of a man during a fire in Tizi Ouzou, one of the most populated cities in Algeria’s Kabylie region, on August 10, 2021
An injured man attends a forest fire in Tizi Ouzou, one of the most populated towns in Algeria’s Kabylie region, on August 10, 2021.
A French water-spilling plane dumps water on a fire near the village of Toudja in the Kabyle region east of Algiers on August 13, 2021
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 its last executions in 1993, indicating the seriousness of the incident.
A court in Dar El Beida has “sentenced 49 people to execution for the murder and mutilation of his body (of Ben Ismail),” APS news agency reported.
The court also sentenced 28 other defendants to prison terms ranging from two years to ten years without parole, APS said.
After the publication online of a video of the lynching of Ben Ismail, “showing the murder of a citizen (burned to death and beaten)”, an investigation was opened, the country’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune asking the authorities to “do the light” on the murder.
Amnesty International also called on the Algerian authorities to immediately investigate the death and “send a clear message that this violence will not go unpunished”.
A forest burns near the village of Larbaa Nath Irathen, near Tizi Ouzou, in the mountainous Kabyle region, 60 miles east of the Algerian capital Algiers, on August 11, 2021
Burnt trees are pictured near Tizi Ouzou following forest fires in this mountainous region, August 10, 2021
Ben Ismail was buried in his home town of Khemis Miliana, 71 miles west of Algiers.
“Do you realize that even dead they tortured him?” Mohamed Khalfi, Ben Ismail’s maternal uncle, told The Associated Press.
“And what hurts me is that people filmed. I am his uncle and I ask that justice do its job and that even those who watched without doing anything be judged.
One of Ben Ismail’s friends, Rafik, who did not give his surname, said he was “an artist, a young man who loves the guitar and loves life…not a violent man “.
The fires were sparked by a scorching heat wave, but authorities have also blamed arsonists and “criminals” for the outbreaks.
They also blamed the independence movement in the Berber-majority region of Kabylie that stretches along the Mediterranean coast east of Algiers.