An Algerian court has sentenced dozens of people to death for lynching forest fires | News

49 people have been 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 lynching 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 executions since the last executions in 1993, meaning sentences are likely to be reduced to life in prison.

Local residents in Algeria’s Tizi Ouzou neighborhood beat 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, the court heard.

It later emerged that Ismail, an artist from Miliana (230 kilometers or 140 miles further west), had actually headed to the region as a volunteer to help put out the fires.

Algeria, Africa’s largest country, was one of several Mediterranean countries to face devastating forest fires last year.

A court in Dar el-Beida, east of the capital Algiers, on Thursday “sentenced 49 people to death for [Ben Ismail’s] murder and mutilation of his body,” the official state news agency APS said.

The court gave 28 other defendants prison sentences ranging from two years to ten years without parole, APS said.

Videos posted online after the lynching showed a mob surrounding a police van and beating the man inside, then pulling him out and setting him on fire, with some taking 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 heat wave, but authorities also blamed “criminals” for the outbreaks.

Authorities have also charged the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia (MAK), which Algiers classifies as a “terrorist organization”. MAK, the autonomy movement for the predominantly Amazigh-speaking region of Kabylia in northern Algeria, denied the allegations.

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.

Climatologists have repeatedly warned that human-caused global warming will bring warmer temperatures and more extreme weather around the world.

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