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Religious freedom to be scrutinized at the United Nations

HRWF (07.11.2022) – On 11 November, Algeria’s human rights report will be examined by the UN Human Rights Council in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The last review dates back to 8 May 2017. A few NGOs have submitted a report about religious freedom, such as ADF International and the European Center for Law and Justice (See their full submissions at https://bit.ly/3fD2zZL). See as well HRWF’s Database of FORB News (2020-2022) at https://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/.

Hereafter an excerpt from the report and recommendations of ADF International.

Legal Framework Relating to Freedom of Religion or Belief

  1. Algeria’s Constitution was formally amended in November 2020.5 Its Article 2 declares Islam as the country’s official religion.6
  2. Article 51 of the new Constitution recognizes freedom of opinion and of religious practice (cultes), however no longer formally protects freedom of conscience. Viewed in of Article 10, which prohibits practices “contrary to Islamic morals,”7 the constitutional guarantees afforded to freedom of religion are greatly limited. It also guarantees the protection of places of worship from political or ideological influences.8
  3. Article 144-bis-2 of the Algerian Penal Code criminalizes “anyone who offends the prophet (peace be upon him) and the messengers of God or denigrates the dogma or precepts of Islam”, with punishments of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 Algerian dinars (approximately $720).9
  4. Article 11 of Algeria’s 2006 Ordinance on the Conditions and Rules of Practice of Faiths other than Islam (the “Law 06-03”) punishes anyone who “incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion; or by using to this end establishments of teaching, education, health, social, culture, training…or any financial means.” It also criminalizes anyone who “makes, stores, or distributes printed documents or audio-visual productions or by any other aid or means, which has as its goal to shake the faith of a Muslim.” The penalty is up to five years in prison, and a 1,000,000 dinar fine (approximately $7,200).10
  5. Additionally, Law 06-03 stipulates that non-Muslim associations must obtain permission from the National Commission for Non-muslim Religious Groups to utilize a building for worship. Unregistered religious activities or groups are banned. The justifications given for rejecting applications are reportedly extremely vague, allowing for arbitrary denial of registration, effectively prohibiting the functioning of certain religious groups.11 Additionally, in practice, the Commission has failed to respond to any applications by Christians groups, forcing them to make unofficial and unreliable arrangements with local officials.12

Blasphemy and proselytism cases

  1. In 2018, Hamid Soudad, an Algerian Christian, was convicted to a five-year prison blasphemy sentence for circulating an allegedly offensive image against Islam on social media.13
  2. In February 2021, a court in Oran convicted pastor Rachid Seighir and one of his colleagues to two years imprisonment and a fine under Article 11 of Law 06-03 for “shaking the faith” of Muslims. This was due to the presence of Christian books in their bookstore.14 On appealing the judgement, in June 2021, this was reduced to a one-year suspended sentence and a lower fine. That same week, Rachid’s church, along with two others in the province, were closed for being unlicensed under Law 06-03.15
  3. In November 2020, an Ahmadi activist, Yacine Mebarki, was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars (approximately $385) in Khenchela for allegedly “insulting Islam” in a social media post, in which he had expressed criticism of a religious scholar.16
  4. In July 2021, officials in Ain Defla sentenced Foudhil Bahloul, a Christian convert, to six months in prison and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars (approximately $720). Bahloul was arrested in April 2021 after his house was searched and certain Christian materials were seized. During his trial, witnesses were not allowed to testify and Bahloul did not have legal representation. His sentence was for receiving an “unauthorized donation” of 200 euros from a friend in Germany, which officials claimed were funds received for his Christian beliefs.17
  5. In September 2021, it was reported that Christian activist and Muslim convert Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian living in Tunisia with refugee status, was allegedly abducted and forcibly returned to Algeria.18 Family members witnessed the abduction of Bouhafs from Tunis by three men before he was imprisoned and appeared before a court in Algiers.19 The specific charges against him remain unknown but it has been reported that there are multiple charges related to so- called terrorist activity.20 Bouhafs spent almost two years in prison in Algeria after he was charged with blasphemy for a Facebook post in 2016 where he criticized Islam. In his trial in 2016, he was denied basic rights of due process and was not provided with a lawyer.21 During his time in prison, he faced aggression from other prisoners because he was known to be a Christian.22

Church closures and religious registration barriers

  1. Protestant Christian communities (including the Église Protestante d’Algérie, or the “EPA”) have been systematically targeted by restrictions to their freedom of worship, notably by prohibiting access to church buildings. Since January 2018, Algerian authorities have sealed 13 Protestant churches affiliated with the EPA, and 49 places of worship have been threatened with closure.23 These closures constitute direct violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, which includes the right to worship in community with others, as well as freedom of association and assembly.
  2. In October 2019, members of a Protestant congregation of the Full Gospel Church of Tizi-Ouzou protested peacefully against the closure of their church, the largest Christian church in Algeria, which was sealed by police officers. The protesters were beaten by authorities while others were arrested. Two more churches were sealed the day after the Full Gospel Church was closed. The pastor of the Full Gospel Church had tried to comply with the authorities and the requirement to register under Law 06-03 of 2006, but the National Commission has completely ignored repeated requests to renew registration.24
  3. In addition, Protestant Christian churches in Algeria faced discriminatory restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From March 2020, Protestant churches were ordered to remain closed for “safety measures,” while mosques and Catholic churches were permitted to reopen.25
  4. The Ahmadi community in Algeria is not recognized by the government, and faces considerable pressure and harassment, including from state officials.26 In January of 2020, a group of Ahmadis were interrogated about their religious beliefs and authorities confiscated their passports before they were prosecuted for forming an illegal association. They were eventually acquitted of the charges against them but their passports were never returned.27

Footnotes

1 The Association of Religion Data Archives ‘Algeria’ https://www.thearda.com/internationalData/countries/Country_4_2.asp.
2 Open Doors International ‘Indonesia: Full Country Dossier’ (December 2021) World Watch List 2022 <https://odusa-media.com/2017/12/Full-Country-Dossier-Algeria-2022.pdf>, 6-7.
3 European Parliament ‘European Parliament Resolution of 28 November 2019 on the situation of freedoms in Algeria’ 2019/2927(RSP), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2019-0072_EN.html, 4.
4 M. Rubio et al. ‘Letter to The Honorable Antony Blinken’ (9 July 2021) United States Senate https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/d83757e6-53f5-4263-854c-836a74b330f5/3FA54880 3F4C8D00DEDED4C1D16FA16F.algeria-religious-freedom.pdf.
5 E. Goldstein ‘The Right That Vanished from Algeria’s Constitution Freedom of Belief Article Dropped — and All Pretense of Respecting It?’ (15 February 2021) Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/15/right-vanished-algerias-constitution.
6 2021 Constitution of Algeria, https://www.joradp.dz/TRV/FConsti.pdf, art. 2.

7 Id., art. 10.
8 Id., art. 51.
9 Algerian Penal Code, https://www.equalrightstrust.org/sites/default/files/ertdocs//code_penal.pdf, art. 144-bis-2.
10 Human Rights Without Frontiers ‘Freedom of Religion or Belief Algeria’ (October 2020) https://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2020-FORB-Algeria.pdf, 2.
11 Human Rights Watch ‘Algeria: Crackdown on Protestant Faith, Churches Sealed; Worshipers Beaten’ (24 October 2019) https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/24/algeria-crackdown-protestant-faith. 12 Middle East Concern ‘Algeria’ https://www.meconcern.org/countries/algeria/.
13 International Christian Concern ‘Algerian Christian Prison Sentence Upheld’ (26 March 2021) https://www.persecution.org/2021/03/26/algerian-christian-prison-sentence-upheld/.
14 Middle East Concern ‘Algeria: Pastor faces prison term’ (2 March 2021) https://meconcern.org/2021/03/02/algeria-pastor-faces-prison-term/.

15 Morning Star News ‘Pastor in Algeria Receives Suspected Sentence and Fine’ (6 June 2021)https://morningstarnews.org/2021/06/pastor-in-algeria-receives-suspended-sentence-and-fine/.
16 Amnesty International ‘Algeria 2020’ (2021) https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/middle-east-and- north-africa/algeria/report-algeria/.
17 Amnesty International ‘Algeria: Quash conviction of Christian convert and overturn repressive law used to prosecute him’ (7 December 2021) https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/12/algeria- quash-conviction-of-christian-convert-and-overturn-repressive-law-used-to-prosecute-him/.
18 Amnesty International ‘Tunisia: authorities must come clean over abduction of Algerian activist’ (3 September 2021) https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/tunisia-authorities-must-come-clean- over-abduction-algerian-activist.
19 A. Bajec ‘Slimane Bouhafs: Inside Tunisia’s extradition of an Algerian political refugee’ (14 September 2021) The New Arab, https://english.alaraby.co.uk/analysis/tunisias-mysterious- extradition-algerian-dissident.
20 Amnesty International ‘Tunisia: authorities must come clean over abduction of Algerian activist’ (3 September 2021) https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/tunisia-authorities-must-come-clean- over-abduction-algerian-activist.
21 Human Rights Watch ‘Algeria: 3-Year Sentence for Insulting Islam’ (7 September 2016) https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/07/algeria-3-year-sentence-insulting-islam.
22 World Watch Monitor ‘‘Finally my father is home’ – Slimane Bouhafs released after 18 months in jail’ (3 April 2018) https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2018/04/finally-my-father-is-home-slimane- bouhafs-released-after-18-months-in-jail/.

23 Middle East Concern ‘Algeria: Another Church Closed by Government’ (14 January 2020)https://meconcern.org/2020/01/14/algeria-another-church-closed-by-government-2/.

24 J. Casper ‘Who Will Save Algeria’s Closed Churches: the UN, US, or Hirak?’ (22 February 2021) Christianity Today, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/february/algeria-christians-closed- churches-united-nations-epa-hirak.html.

25 International Christian Concern ‘With No Churches Left to Close, Algerian Government Turns to Individuals’ (18 May 2021) https://persecution.org/2021/05/18/no-churches-left-close-algerian government-turns-individuals/.

26 A. Garcia ‘Algeria continues persecution of the Ahmadi Community’ (23 December 2020) https://atalayar.com/en/content/algeria-continues-persecution-ahmadi-community.

27 Amnesty International ‘Algeria 2020’ (2021) https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/middle-east-and- north-africa/algeria/report-algeria/.

26 A. Garcia ‘Algeria continues persecution of the Ahmadi Community’ (23 December 2020) https://atalayar.com/en/content/algeria-continues-persecution-ahmadi-community.
27 Amnesty International ‘Algeria 2020’ (2021) https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/middle-east-and- north-africa/algeria/report-algeria/.

Photo : istock.org

Further reading about FORB in Algeria on HRWF website

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