Forty-nine people were sentenced to death for lynching a man wrongly accused of setting deadly fires last year.

An Algerian court has sentenced 49 people to death for lynching a man falsely accused of starting deadly wildfires during a prolonged heat wave State media reported this last year.

However, the North African country has maintained a moratorium on carrying out death sentences since the last executions in 1993, meaning sentences are likely to be reduced to life imprisonment.

The court ruled that locals in Algeria’s Tizi Ouzou district beat 38-year-old Djamel Ben Ismail to death after he was accused of starting the fires that broke out last August and killed at least 90 people in northern Algeria.

It later transpired that Ismail, an artist from Miliana (230 kilometers or 140 miles further west), had indeed gone to the region as a volunteer to help put out the fires.

Algeria, the largest country in Africa, was one of many Mediterranean countries it dealt with devastating bushfires last year.

The court in Dar el-Beida, east of the capital Algiers, on Thursday “sentenced 49 people to execution for [Ben Ismail’s] murder and mutilation of his body,” reports the official state news agency APS.

The court handed down 28 other defendants prison terms ranging from two years to 10 years without parole, APS said.

Videos posted online after the lynching showed a mob surrounding a police van and beating a man into it, then dragging him out and setting it on fire, with some taking selfies.

The 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 caused by a blistering heat wave, but authorities also blamed “criminals” for the outbreaks.

Authorities also accused the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), which classifies Algiers as a “terrorist organization”. MAK, an autonomy movement for the largely Amazigh-speaking Kabylie region of northern Algeria, rejected the allegations.

While much of Algeria is desert, the north has more than four million hectares of forest and suffers from it 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.

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