Forty-nine people were sentenced to death over the lynching of a man falsely accused of starting deadly fires last year.
An Algerian court has sentenced 49 people to death over the lynching of a man falsely accused of starting deadly forest fires during an extended heatwave last year, state media reported.
The North African country has, however, maintained a moratorium on carrying out death sentences since the last executions in 1993, meaning the sentences will likely be reduced to life imprisonment.
The court found that locals in Algeria’s Tizi Ouzou district 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 kilometres or 140 miles further west), had in fact headed to the region as a volunteer to help put out the fires.
Algeria, Africa’s biggest country, was one of several Mediterranean nations to face devastating wildfires last year.
The court in Dar el-Beida, east of the capital Algiers, on Thursday “sentenced 49 people to execution over [Ben Ismail’s] murder and mutilation of his body”, the official state news agency, APS, reported.
The court handed 28 other defendants jail terms of two years to a decade without parole, APS said.
Videos posted online after the lynching showed a crowd surrounding a police van and beating a man inside it, then dragging 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 spurred by a blistering heatwave but authorities also blamed “criminals” for the outbreaks.
Authorities also accused the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), which Algiers classifies as a “terrorist organisation”. 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 devastating fires every summer.
Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that man-made global warming will bring higher temperatures and more extreme weather events across the world.