An Algerian court on Thursday sentenced 49 people to death over the brutal lynching of a man falsely accused of starting deadly forest fires in August last year. Dozens more have received prison sentences.
The murder of Jamal Ben Ismail shocked the country. Ben Ismail went to the Kabylie region outside Algiers to help battle wildfires that blazed across Algeria in 2021, killing at least 90 people.
Authorities said arsonists and “criminals” had started the blazes. They also blamed the independence movement of the Berber-majority region of Kabylie. Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud visited Tizi Ouzou, telling reporters the fires had been caused by “criminals filled with hatred against our country”. This likely contributed to the tragedy that happened next.
The 38-year-old victim tweeted saying he would travel over 320 km from his home to “give a hand to our friends”. But soon after he arrived, locals accused him of starting fires himself, to clarify the matter or seek protection, Jamal Ben Ismail reported to the police.
But the police were not able to protect him. Ben Ismail posted desperate calls for urgent assistance on his Facebook page. These appeals were also in vain.
Images and videos posted online at the time showed a crowd surrounding a police van and beating a man inside it, then dragging him out and setting him on fire. Shocking images of Ben Ismail’s charred remains outraged the nation.
Noureddine Ben Ismail, the victim’s father, said he was “devastated” by his son’s death.
“My son left to help his brothers from Kabylie, a region he loves. They burned him alive,” he said. At the same time, the bereaved father's calls for calm and “brotherhood” were praised by Algerians. Ben Ismail senior as well as his surviving son also called for the removal of the images from social media. As they explained, his mother still did not know how her son had died.
The family’s appeal was supported by Algeria's LADDH human rights group.
“These images constitute yet another trauma for the family and for the Algerian people, already shocked” by the fires, it said, at the same time appealing for calm and for those responsible for the “despicable murder” to be brought to justice.
On November 24 justice gave its verdict. 49 people have been given death sentences for murder and mutilation of Ben Ismail’s body. 37 other people were given prison terms of between two and 10 years in prison without parole. 17 people were acquitted.
The sentences are likely to be reduced to life in prison as there is a moratorium on executions. No death sentences have been carried out since 1993.