49 people were sentenced to death for the lynching of a man falsely accused of starting deadly fires last year.
An Algerian court has sentenced 49 people to death for the lynching of a man falsely accused of starting deadly forest fires during a prolonged heat wave last year, state media reported.
However, the North African country has maintained a moratorium on carrying out death sentences since the last executions in 1993, meaning sentences are likely to be reduced to life imprisonment.
The court found that locals in the Tizi Ouzou district of Algeria had beaten 38-year-old Djamel Ben Ismail to death after he was accused of starting the fires that broke out last August and killed at least 90 people across northern Algeria.
It later emerged that Ismail, an artist from Miliana (230 kilometers or 140 miles further west), had actually traveled to the region as a volunteer to help put out the fires.
Algeria, Africa’s largest country, was one of several Mediterranean nations to face devastating forest fires last year.
The court in Dar el-Beida, east of the capital Algiers, sentenced 49 people to death on Thursday [Ben Ismail’s] killing and mutilating his body,” the official state news agency APS reported.
The court gave 28 other defendants prison terms of two years to a decade without parole, APS said.
Videos posted online after the lynching showed a crowd surrounding a police car and beating a man inside, then dragging him out and setting him on fire, while some took selfies.
The shocking images were widely shared and sparked outrage in Algeria.
The victim’s father, Noureddine Ben Ismail, was praised for calling for calm and “brotherhood” among Algerians despite his son’s murder.
The fires were fueled by a violent heat wave, but the authorities also blamed “criminals” for the outbreaks.
Authorities also accused the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), which Algiers classifies as a “terrorist organization”. The MAK, an autonomy movement for the mostly Amazigh-speaking Kabylie region in northern Algeria, rejected the accusations.
Although much of Algeria is desert, the north has more than four million hectares (10 million acres) of forest and suffers from devastating fires every summer.
Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that man-made global warming will lead to higher temperatures and more extreme weather events worldwide.