In Algeria, 49 death sentences for a lynching in Kabylia

An Algerian court on Thursday sentenced 49 people to death for the 2021 lynching in Kabylia of a man wrongly accused of arson, but those sentences should be commuted to life imprisonment due to a moratorium on executions, according to the official agency.

The defendants were found guilty of the lynching of Djamel Bensmaïl, an artist from Miliana (120 km west of Algiers) who had volunteered in the village of Larbaa Nath Irathen, in the prefecture of Tizi Ouzou (north- east), to help put out the forest fires which had killed 90 people in less than a week in August 2021. If the death penalty is indeed provided for by the Penal Code in Algeria, it is no longer applied under a moratorium in effect since 1993.

Beaten then burned alive

The defendants, who appeared before the court of Dar El Beida, in the eastern suburbs of Algiers, were prosecuted in particular for “terrorist and subversive acts against the State and national unity” and “intentional homicide with premeditation”, according to the ‘charge. Twenty-eight other defendants prosecuted in this case were sentenced to terms ranging from two to ten years in prison and 17 were acquitted.

After hearing that he was suspected of having started the fire in the forest, Djamel Bensmaïl, who was 38 years old, had surrendered to the police. Images relayed by social networks had shown the crowd surrounding the police van and extricating the man from the vehicle after hitting him. Djamel Bensmaïl was then beaten and then burned alive, while young people took selfies in front of the corpse.

ghoulish selfies

At the time of the events, which had raised a wave of indignation throughout the country, the images of the lynching which had gone viral were commented on in particular via the hashtag #JusticePourDjamelBenIsmail.

Those who had taken selfies had tried to cover their tracks, but Internet users from all over the country compiled videos and took screenshots so that the crime which had marked the spirits by its horror does not go unpunished.

The photos of the people identified on the videos had ended up all over the web and the harragas (candidates for the clandestine crossing) were asked not to let them board with them, in order to prevent them from fleeing the country. The arrests took place in several regions of the country. Some people involved in the lynching had been handed over to the police by their own families.

“clear message”

Amnesty International had called on the authorities to “send a clear message that this violence will not be tolerated”. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) had judged for its part that “the scenes of the lynching and the immolation of the alleged arsonist, when it was a young artist who had come to lend a hand. strong to the victims are shocking.”

The victim’s father, Noureddine Bensmaïl, admirably dignified, had been hailed as a national hero after calling for calm and brotherhood among Algerians. “His gesture, which is to be inscribed in the world pantheon of founding acts of human nobility, tolerance, righteousness, few men have been or will be able to produce it”, had praised the journalist and writer Mohamed Badaoui on his Facebook account.

Excerpts from videos posted by the defendants on social media, showing details of the crime, were shown during the trial which opened on Tuesday. These videos show the lynching of Djamel Bensmaïl, burned alive and stripped of his personal items, including his cell phone.

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