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Death sentences for 38 over 2021 lynching of Algeria fires volunteer

A charred truck after a fire near the village of Achlouf   -  
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Toufik Doudou/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved


Thirty-eight people were sentenced to death in Algeria on Monday for their role in the 2021 killing of Djamel Bensmail.

He had been falsely accused of starting deadly forest fires in the north-eastern Kabylie region when in fact he had volunteered to fight them.

"As the defence committee for the late Djamel Bensmail, we believe that the verdict is just. The court questioned the defendants sufficiently to ensure a fair and just verdict for all," said Fakher-Eddine Berahna, a member of Bensmail's defence committee

Bensmail had handed himself in after hearing he was suspected of arson at the height of the blazes which killed at least 90 people.

But a mob surrounded the police van, beating him before dragging him out and setting him on fire, with some even taking selfies next to his body.

His gruesome murder set off a wave of revulsion across the country.

After the images went viral, often shared with the hashtag #JusticePourDjamelBenIsmail, the people who took the selfies tried to cover their tracks.

But internet users across the country compiled videos and took screenshots to ensure the crime did not go unpunished.

The state news agency, APS, said out of the 94 defendants, 27 were acquitted, and the remaining 29 who were not sentenced to death, received jail terms ranging from 3 to 20 years.

"The victim's father said from the outset that he had confidence in Algerian justice, in the justice of our country. He is now reassured. What interests us is that the great manipulators of this affair are punished with the right sentence," said Berahna.

The fires were spurred by a blistering heatwave, but the authorities also blamed arsonists.

The death sentences for the 38 will be commuted to life in prison as Algeria has a moratorium on capital punishment.

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