Algerian child’s death sparks calls for capital punishment
Tunis - The killing of a 4-year-old girl prompted calls for the implementation of capital punishment in Algeria, which has not carried out a death sentence since 1993.
Thousands of Algerians marched behind the girl’s coffin on August 7th, with many saying the government should bring back the death penalty. Mourners claim the girl was abducted, raped and killed. Authorities said they have not reached a conclusion about the case.
The girl’s death rekindled debate between those against capital punishment and Islamists and other conservatives who insist the death penalty must be implemented to punish those who kill and rape, according to their interpretation of Islamic law. Algeria has not abolished the death penalty but has observed a moratorium on carrying out capital punishment since 1993.
The girl, Nihal Si Mohand, was reported missing July 21st from the village of Aït Abdelouahab, 60km from Algiers, where her family was attending a wedding. The case attracted widespread media coverage, especially by private television stations that reported that the girl was kidnapped, abused and killed by one or more people.
The government deployed more than 2,500 paramilitary gendarmes and police officers to investigate the death. They found bones and tufts of hair scattered over a 4 sq. km area near the village.
Colonel Mohamed Tirghini, the National Gendarmerie spokesman, said authorities would spare no effort in their investigation, even if they had to question all 400 residents of the village.
“The death of the small girl Nihal traumatised public opinion. Never has such a tragedy provoked such a shock and especially a wave of anger and wide indignation,” wrote the leading French-language daily El Watan.
El Khabar daily reported that “hundreds of thousands” thronged the cemetery in Ain Beida district outside the western city of Oran, where the girl’s family lives, chanting, “we will sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Nihal”. The imam overseeing the burial ritual urged the crowd to be calm out of respect for the dead.
Parliament member Mohamed Mehdi Kasemi wrote a letter urging President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to organise a referendum “on implementing the death penalty against criminals convicted of murder”.
“I want to inform you about the fate of the girl Nihal and before her the death of Ibrahim, Souaieb, Yasser, Haroune, Chaima, Soundes, and the list of victims is long,” he added alluding to other children killed after being abducted.
“I also want to let you know about the impact of such an incident as well as previous ones on the feelings of the society members across the country,” he said.
“You have heard the voices of honourable free people who expressed anger and repulsion against such gruesome crimes calling the death sentences to be enacted against these criminals.”
He assailed a “small minority” of rights activists who are against the death penalty.
“We do not know what kind of human beings they are defending? What must come first, the rights of the innocent victims or the rights of criminal murderers?” he asked.
“It is not wise to take a decision on such an issue under the pressures of angry people following such an abominable crime,” said Noureddine Benissad, chairman of the independent Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights.
Benissad said executions of rapists and other criminals were no deterrent against crime as evidenced by countries such as the United States.
“Unfortunately, the death of Nihal is added to the long list of children kidnapped and killed since 2012. These hands that strike at any moment have no colour and no reasoning. It is part of rise of criminality in the country,” said Abderrahmane Arar, who heads the civic association Nada for the defence of children’s rights.
Tunisia was rattled in May by the kidnapping and death of a 4-year-old boy by a young man in the working-class district of Melassine in Tunis. The crime prompted calls by Islamists and conservatives, including parliament members, to implement death sentences, which were last carried out there in 1994.