An Algerian court sentenced 49 people to death today for the lynching of a man who was wrongly accused of arson in the summer of 2021 in Kabylia. Their sentences will be de facto life imprisonment, as Algeria has declared a moratorium on executions.
The defendants were found guilty of murdering Jamal Ben Ismail, a singer from Miliana who volunteered to put out fires that killed 90 people in August 2021. After going to Kabylia, Ben Ismail was attacked by dozens youths from the village of Larbaa Nat Iraten who burned him alive, according to testimony and videos presented at the trial.
The death penalty is provided for in the Algerian penal code, but has not been applied since 1993.
The defendants were prosecuted for “terrorist and subversive actions against the state and national unity” and “intentional and premeditated murder.”
Another 28 co-defendants were sentenced to sentences ranging from two to 10 years in prison, while 17 were acquitted.
The court sentenced in absentia the leader of the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia (MAK – considered a “terrorist organization” by the Algerian authorities), Ferhat Meheni, to life in prison on charges related to Ben Ismail’s murder. The same sentence was imposed on his other four co-accused, including his deputy, Brahim Balaber.
The Algerian authorities blame the separatist movement for the fires and the gruesome murder of the artist. Some of those arrested admitted to being members of the MAK, according to their videotaped confessions broadcast by Algerian television channels.
After learning that he was suspected of setting fire to a forest, 38-year-old Jamal Ben Ismail went to the police. Images posted on social media showed a crowd surrounding a police van and pulling the singer out. Ben Ismail was beaten and burned alive, while youths took selfies in front of his corpse and then uploaded them online.
Some of the selfie-takers tried to cover their tracks, but netizens across the country gathered the footage so the crime would not go unpunished. Photos of these people were widely circulated on the Internet and even “haragas”, would-be illegal immigrants, were asked not to allow them to board boats with them to leave the country.
Arrests were made in many areas of Algeria. Some suspects of involvement in the lynching were handed over to the authorities by their own families.
Amnesty International called on the authorities to “send a clear message that this kind of violence will not be tolerated”.
The victim’s father, Noureddine Ben Ismail, became a national hero after appealing for calm and brotherhood among Algerians. “His gesture, which is inscribed in the global pantheon of human dignity, tolerance, honesty, few people have been or will be able to repeat,” commented journalist and author Mohammed Badawi.