A judge on Monday handed 12-year jail terms to two men convicted of killing popular Algerian singer Lounes Matoub, an avid Berber campaigner.
Matoub, who was known for promoting Berber culture and seeking official recognition for his people and their language, was gunned down aged 42 near the Kabylie region’s capital Tizi Ouzou, east of Algiers, on June 25, 1998.
A judge sentenced Malik Madjnoun and Abdelhakim Chenoui after a one-day trial that was suspended twice when the performer’s family interrupted to insist the suspects were innocent.
The pair are part of a group of 10 people accused of the killing and have been in prison awaiting trial since 1998.
They have practically served their 12-year sentences, and will be freed in the coming months. Prosecutors had requested the death penalty.
The other eight suspects are either on the run or have been killed by security forces.
"I am not happy about the verdict as my client should have been acquitted," said Madjnoun’s lawyer Ait Habib Boubekeur.
"He’ll have to wait another eight months before he is released."
"The case (against the accused) was empty," added Chenoui’s lawyer Amine Sidhoum.
Madjnoun and Chenoui were charged with "participation and complicity in the killing of Lounes Matoub," but their lawyers, along with the singer’s family, demanded the "real" perpetrators be identified.
The trial was suspended for 30 minutes while the artist’s sister Malika Matoub, his mother Aldjia Matoub and members of the Lounes Matoub Foundation chanted "Free Madjoun and Chenoui! Find the real perpetrators!"
When the trial restarted a short time later, Malika Matoub interrupted proceedings to argue with the judge, shouting that the accused men had "nothing to do with" the case, resulting in the hearing being suspended for a second time.
She demanded that Hassan Hattab, a leader of the armed extremist Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, who claimed responsibility for the killing, appear in court instead. Hattab gave himself up to police in October 2007.
Chenoui was taken out of the courtroom after he started shouting "I am innocent!"
Sidhoum told the hearing: "I sympathize with the Matoub family and I ask that the trial continue despite the family walking out because two innocent people are in prison and have the right to be judged."
He said it was "a disgrace for Algerian justice" that the men had been held without trial for so long.
Matoub’s murder caused uproar in Algeria and came during a civil war between Islamic extremists and the security forces.
Matoub’s widow Nadia has blamed the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) for Matoub’s death but his sister and mother believe it was a politically motivated killing.