Forty-nine people were sentenced to death for the lynching of a man falsely accused of starting a deadly fire 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 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 the sentences are likely to be reduced to life imprisonment.
The court heard that locals in Algeria’s Tizi Ouzou neighborhood had beaten 38-year-old Djamel Ben Ismail to death after he was accused of starting the fires that broke out last August, killing at least 90 people across northern Algeria.
It later emerged that Ismail, an artist from Miliana (230 kilometers or 140 miles further west), had actually gone to the area 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.
The 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 sentenced 28 other defendants to prison terms of two years to a decade without parole, APS said.
Videos posted online after the lynching showed a crowd surrounding a police car and beating a man inside, then pulling him out and setting him on fire, with some taking selfies.
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 sweltering heat wave, but authorities also blamed “criminals” for the outbreak.
Authorities also accused the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), which Algiers classifies as a “terrorist organization”. The MAK, an autonomous movement for the mostly Amazigh-speaking region of Kabylie in northern Algeria, rejected the allegations.
Although much of Algeria is desert, the north has more than four million hectares (10 million acres) of forest and is subject to devastating fires every summer.
Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that human-induced global warming will lead to higher temperatures and more extreme weather events around the world.