The verdict is heavy. An Algerian court sentenced 49 people to death on Thursday for taking part in the lynching of a man suspected of being an arsonist in 2021 in the Kabylia region. These sentences should nevertheless be commuted to life imprisonment due to a moratorium on executions, the official agency reported.
The defendants were found guilty of the lynching of Djamel Bensmail, a man wrongly suspected of being an arsonist, during the terrible fires which killed 90 people in less than a week in August 2021. The arrests took place in several regions from the country.
The media had initially reported 48 death sentences, but according to the official APS agency it is 49. A number nevertheless lower than the requisitions of the prosecutor, who had requested the death penalty for 70 people , on November 19. If the death penalty is indeed provided for by the Penal Code in Algeria, it is no longer applied under a moratorium in force since 1993.
The defendants would be members of a Kabyle independence movement, classified as terrorist and were notably prosecuted for “terrorist and subversive acts against the State and national unity” and “intentional homicide with premeditation”.
Twenty-eight other defendants prosecuted in the context of this case were sentenced to terms ranging from two to ten years in prison and 17 were acquitted. Some people involved in the lynching had been handed over to the police by their own families.
Djamel Bensmail, an artist from Miliana (120 km west of Algiers), had volunteered in the village of Larbaa Nath Irathen, in the Tizi Ouzou prefecture (northeast) to help put out the fires. After hearing that he was suspected of having set fire to the forest, he 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, 38, was then beaten and then burned alive while young people took selfies in front of the corpse. Video extracts of this atrocious killing were then broadcast on social networks.
National mobilization to find the perpetrators
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.
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) for its part considered “shocking” “the scenes of the lynching and immolation of the alleged arsonist, when it was a young artist who came to lend helping the victims”.
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.