Algeria sentences 49 to death for crowd killing during wildfires ( News Washington )

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ALGIERS, Algeria — An Algerian court sentenced 49 people Thursday to death for inhumane shootings of a painter suspected of arson — but instead came to fight back, according to defense lawyers and a state news agency.

The killing last year in the Kabylie region of northern Algeria shocked the country, especially after graphic images of it were shared on social media. It came to the mountains of Barbary raging from the wildfires that killed 90 people, among the soldiers trying to tame the flames.

The mammoth, high-security trial over the killing of artist Djamel Ben Ismail involved more than 100 suspects, most of whom have pleaded guilty to some role in his death.

Those given the death penalty are likely to face life in prison, as Algeria has had a moratorium on punishments for decades. Thirty-eight others were given sentences between two and 12 years in prison, said lawyer Hakim Saheb, a member of the collective of voluntary defense lawyers at the court in the Algiers suburb of Dra El Beida.

When wildfires raged in August 2021, Ben Ismail tweeted that he headed to the Kabylie region, 320 kilometers (200 miles) from his home, to “hand our friends” to fight the fires.

Arriving in Larbaa Nath Irathen, a village close to the fires, some local residents accused him of setting the fire, because he was not from the area.

Ben Ismail, 38, was killed outside a police station on the town’s main street. Police said he was pulled out of the station, where he was being held up, when he was attacked. Among them on trial were three women and a man who hacked the lifeless body with a knife before burning it.

Police said photos posted online helped them identify the suspects. His family was frantically questioning why they hadn’t kept him in place while filming.

He also had a public trial. Five people convicted in absentia both for involvement in the murder and for belonging to the banned Kabylie or supporters of the separatist movement called MAK, Saheb said. The movement of leader Ferhat M’henni, who was based in France, was among them. The MAK accused the Algerian authorities of organizing the fires.

Defense lawyers said confessions were coerced with guns and the trial aimed to mark the political masquerade of the so-called Kabylie. At the time of the fires, the region was the last bastion of the “hirak” pro-democracy protest movement that helped bring down long-serving President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Hundreds of Algerian citizens have been arrested to protect the Hirak movement, whose travels have been banned by the Algerian army-backed government.

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