49 people sentenced to death for mafia murder in Algeria | Algeria

An Algerian court has sentenced 49 people to death for the brutal murder of a painter suspected of starting devastating wildfires but, according to lawyers and the state news agency, had actually come to help fight them.

The 2021 murder in the Kabyle region of northeastern Algeria shocked the country after graphic images of it were shared on social media. It came shortly after wildfires in the mountainous Berber region killed about 90 people, including soldiers trying to contain the flames.

The massive, high-security trial of artist Djamel Ben Ismail’s murder involved more than 100 suspects, many of whom were found guilty of some role in his death.

Those who received the death penalty on Thursday instead face life in prison, as Algeria has had a moratorium on executions for decades. Thirty-eight others received sentences of between two and 12 years in prison, said lawyer Hakim Saheb, a member of a collective of volunteer lawyers at the trial in Dra El Beida, a suburb of Algiers.

As the bushfires raged in August 2021, Ben Ismail tweeted that he would head to the Kabyle region, 200 miles from his home, to “give our friends a hand” in fighting the fires.

Upon his arrival in Larbaa Nath Irathen, a village badly affected by the fires, some locals accused him of being an arsonist, apparently because he was not from the area.

Ben Ismail, 38, was killed outside a police station in a central square of the city. Police said he was dragged out of the station, where he was protected, and attacked. Among those on trial were three women and a man who stabbed the victim’s lifeless body with a knife before he was burned.

Police said photos posted online helped them identify suspects. His distraught family wondered why those recordings didn’t save him.

The process also had political overtones. Five people were convicted in absentia of both involvement in the murder and belonging to or supporting a banned Kabyle separatist movement called MAK, Saheb said. The leader of the movement, Ferhat M’henni, based in France, was one of them. Algerian authorities accused MAK of ordering the fires.

Defense lawyers said confessions were coerced through torture and called the trial a political masquerade to stigmatize the people of Kabyle. At the time of the fires, the region was the last stronghold of the pro-democracy ‘hirak’ protest movement that helped topple long-serving president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019.

Hundreds of Algerian citizens have been jailed for trying to keep alive the Hirak movement, whose marches have been banned by the Algerian military-backed government.

Leave a Comment