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49 sentenced to die for lynching wildfires Good Samaritan in Algeria

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orty-nine people have been sentenced to die for lynching an innocent good Samaritan painter, according to defence lawyers and a state news agency.

Djamel Ben Ismail was dragged into the main square in the village of Larbaa Nath Irathen, Algeria, and attacked by locals who wrongly accused him of starting devastating wildfires – apparently because he was not from the area.

But the 38-year-old had actually travelled to the Kabylie region, 200 miles from his home, to help battle the blazes of August 2021, tweeting he was going to “give a hand to our friends” fighting the flames.

His murder shocked the country, especially after graphic images were shared on social media.

A mammoth high-security trial involved more than 100 suspects, with most found guilty of playing a part in Mr Ben Ismail’s killing.

Those given the death penalty are likely to face life in prison instead because Algeria has had a moratorium on executions for decades.

Some 38 others were sentenced to between two and 12 years in prison, said lawyer Hakim Saheb, from a collective of volunteer defence lawyers at the trial.

After arriving in Larbaa Nath Irathen and being wrongly accused, police said Mr Ben Ismail was dragged out of a police station, where he was being protected, and attacked.

Among those on trial were three women and a man who stabbed his inanimate body before he was burnt.

Police said photographs posted online helped identify the suspects.

Mr Ben Ismail’s family asked why those filming did not save him instead.

The trial also had political undertones.

Five people were convicted in absentia for their involvement in the killing and for belonging to or supporting a banned Kabylie separatist movement called MAK, Mr Saheb said.

The movement’s leader, Ferhat M’henni, based in France, was among them.

Algerian authorities accused MAK of ordering the fires.

Defence lawyers said confessions were coerced under torture and called the trial a political masquerade aimed at stigmatising Kabylie.

At the time of the fires, the region was the last bastion of the “Hirak” pro-democracy protest movement, which helped bring down long-serving president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Hundreds of Algerian citizens have been jailed for trying to keep the Hirak movement alive, with marches banned by Algeria’s army-backed government.

The wildfires, in the mountainous Berber region, killed 90 people, including soldiers trying to tame the flames.

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