Some government policies and practices restricted religious freedom. Local press reported the sentencing of two people arrested in 2013, and one case of harassment by a security officer, for failure to observe Ramadan fasting practices. There was no progress in the appeals of two Christians who had been arrested and tried in prior years on religious grounds. Some Christian groups continued to face a range of administrative difficulties because the government had not responded to their request for recognition as an association. Christian leaders stated that overall, government responsiveness to visa applications improved during the year, although delays were still a problem. Many leaders expressed appreciation for the police and security forces’ respect and responsiveness to the security needs of their places of worship. One leader mentioned that while he had security concerns about one of his communities in a more conservative area, he was reassured by the conscientiousness of the police, who were continually present and frequently consulted with him about the security of the community. Authorities did not respond quickly to requests for authorization to import non-Islamic religious texts.
According to a local press report, on January 27, a town court in the Kabylie region sentenced two people who had been arrested in 2013 for breaking the Ramadan fast to two months in prison on the charge of behavior “offensive to religion.” During Ramadan there was a local press report of a security officer in Algiers harassing a man whom he suspected of not fasting. The newly-appointed minister of religious affairs commented in the press that fasting was a purely private choice of conscience and affirmed that the government should not dispatch security forces to arrest demonstrators who chose to break their fast in public, which was a stronger public statement of support for this policy by the government than in previous years.
The government enforced penalties for proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims. There were no developments during the year in the appeal case of Mohamed Ibaouene, a Christian in Tizi Ouzou, who was convicted in absentia in 2012 of pressuring a local Muslim to convert from Islam. In 2013, an appeals judge dropped the one-year prison sentence but raised the 50,000 dinar fine to 100,000 dinars ($1,100); Ibaouene’s lawyer said at the time that they would appeal the case.
An appeal hearing continued to be delayed for Abdelkrim Siaghi, a Christian convert who was sentenced to five years in prison in May 2011 for offending the Prophet Muhammad. In 2012 a judge called for further review of Siaghi’s conviction. Siaghi allegedly refused to recite the Muslim profession of faith—the incident for which he was sentenced—and also allegedly offered a neighbor a CD-ROM that contained the testimonial of a Muslim who converted to Christianity.
A Christian representative stated that continued government observance of the ordinance against proselytizing by non-Muslims resulted in his church restricting some non-proselytization activities.
Christian citizens who converted from Islam reportedly constituted the majority of members of religious groups seeking legal registration. Some non-Muslim groups attempting to comply with 2012 registration requirements that established a January 2014 deadline for compliance still had not received official approvals by the end of the year. Difficulties faced by religious groups in obtaining legal status were similar to those faced by nonreligious civil society groups, nongovernmental organizations, and others, whose petitions to the MOI generally were met with silence rather than documented refusal. MRA officials stated that Muslim associations were equally burdened under this process because the opening of every new mosque required the formation of an association under the law. Some Seventh-day Adventist and Reformed churches had registration requests pending with the government; they reported no government interference in holding religious services, but reported administrative and bureaucratic difficulties in many areas as a result of their lack of legal standing. Examples included a lack of standing to pursue legal complaints, an inability to open bank accounts or establish related charitable activities, and difficulty managing church billing accounts without documented standing as an association. One Christian leader of a church that had obtained legal status noted that the formal, international structure of his church did not map well to the structure demanded by the associations law, sometimes requiring the church to deviate from its international standards of organization. MRA officials stated that the bureaucratic process and internal organizational issues among some religious groups probably contributed to the delays, but indicated the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups was working with the groups seeking approval to expedite their requests. Further, the minister of religious affairs stated that the MRA was planning to institute new processes that would facilitate registration as a religious association. Christian leaders stated that some Protestant groups did not apply for recognition and operated discreetly because they lacked confidence in the registration process.
A Christian leader noted that despite his church’s standing as an official association separate from other denominations, he believed the MRA and other government offices did not always reliably distinguish between different Christian groups, noting that officials in the past had raised with him the actions of unofficial Protestant groups with no relationship to his church.
Church groups stated the government delayed the visa applications of many religious workers, often providing no response rather than a documented refusal. Both Catholic and Protestant groups identified this as a significant hindrance to religious practice. One Christian leader noted, however, that after the previous year’s report on international religious freedom was published, he found that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded more quickly to visa requests. When the government did grant visas, they were short-stay tourist visas, rather than the requested long-term work visas. The MRA and senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials often intervened with relevant interlocutors at the foreign and interior ministries at the request of religious groups. Groups typically received visas for religious workers after higher-level intervention.
The government continued to restrict the large-scale importation of Arabic and Tamazight (Berber) translations of non-Islamic religious texts, although citizens and foreigners could legally import personal copies of non-Islamic texts. Christian leaders reported delays of six months and more when seeking approval to import Bibles or other religious materials for their churches, despite numerous attempts by the leaders to meet with relevant officials to resolve the issue. The MRA attributed the delay to hold-ups outside of the government’s control. Non-Islamic religious texts, music, and video media were available, and stores in the capital sold Bibles in several languages, including Arabic, French, and Tamazight. Government-owned radio stations continued to broadcast Christmas and Easter services in French.
The new minister of religious affairs in July publicly raised the possibility of implementing the “reopening” of some synagogues as previously authorized, but in September said Jewish religious authorities with whom he consulted had thanked him for standing up for freedom of conscience, while stating that there were no longer enough members of the Jewish community to require the reopening of synagogues. None of the country’s synagogues were in use during the year and the “reopening” stood as a technical permission that was not implemented.
Many Christian citizens continued to meet in unofficial “house churches,” which were often homes or businesses of church members. Some of these groups met openly, while others held worship services in secret. The minister of religious affairs publicly noted that use of non-authorized public, private, or commercial spaces as places of worship violated the law. The authorities, however, have in recent years not strictly enforced this restriction.
Protestant leaders continued seeking to regain property rights to five churches that were reportedly given to the Protestant Church of Algeria during the 1970s, but said that some local officials blocked their efforts while permitting other associations to make use of the space. One church leader noted that his church no longer had access to the site it had used and could not obtain its own new space; its members were only able to gather by using the spaces of a separate church that permitted them to borrow the facility. The MRA stated some of these cases reflected questions of ownership rights among individual Protestant church members.
Christian leaders stated that internment costs for a Christian burial rite were higher than for a Muslim burial rite. Church leaders also said that members who had converted were sometimes buried by their parents according to Muslim rites and the church had no standing to intervene on their behalf. Christian groups also reported that some villages did not permit Christians to be buried alongside Muslims, posing challenges to burial locally.
Christians reported they encountered refusals or delays when seeking government authorization to give Biblical names to their children, but noted that a second request following a refusal typically led to approval. The MRA noted similar delays sometimes occurred with “foreign” sounding names, Tamazight names, or Arab names that were uncommon locally, and attributed delays in approving Biblical names to overzealous local officials, who were unfamiliar with the proposed names and required additional time to seek higher-level approval.
There were anecdotal reports that non-Muslims were not promoted to senior government posts, causing non-Muslims to conceal their religious affiliation.
Government officials invited Christian leaders to events celebrating national occasions. The minister of religious affairs consulted closely with a representative of the Jewish community about this community’s needs and publicly praising the representative as a “patriot and a nationalist.” Jewish leaders, however, reported their shrinking community faced unofficial, religion-based obstacles to government employment and administrative difficulties when working with the government bureaucracy.
According to the MRA, female government employees were allowed to wear the hijab, crosses, and the niqab (Islamic veil covering the face). Nevertheless, authorities discouraged some female government employees, such as police officers and hospital employees, from wearing head and face coverings that could complicate the performance of their official duties.
The MRA during Ramadan publicly warned that fatwas issued outside of the country might reflect “extremist” views and stressed that the nation’s Islamic scholars (ulema) were competent to address matters of Islamic jurisprudence. MRA representatives, including the minister of religious affairs, made several public statements warning against the spread of “extremist” Salafism, Wahhabism, Shia Islam, Ahmadi Islam, and the Bahai Faith.
Government authorities continued to closely observe mosques in the Kabylie region, where residents had registered complaints the previous year about the “extreme religious” views of the mosques’ imams. The MRA had relieved three of the four imams in question the previous year as a result of these petitions or public demonstrations.
Some local press identified communal violence and unrest between Arab Maliki and Mozabite Ibadi Muslims in Ghardaia province, in the center of the country, as containing a component of religious conflict; because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked in the area of Ghardaia, it is difficult to categorize incidents there as being solely based on religious identity. The minister of religious affairs stated that the conflict in Ghardaia was not religious in nature and some parties were wrongly evoking religious differences in this region. The minister highlighted the common points between Maliki and Ibadi Islamic religious practice, and on a visit to Ghardaia organized a joint Maliki-Ibadi Friday prayer service.
The government and private contributions from local Muslims funded mosque construction, as well as the preservation of some churches, particularly those of historical importance.
The 28 members of the MRA educational commission developed the educational system for teaching the Quran. The commission established policies for hiring teachers at the Quranic schools and ensured all imams were well qualified and followed governmental guidelines aimed at countering violent extremism.
The MRA supported and, in some cases, helped organize national conferences on interfaith dialogue. Government officials increasingly signaled the need for tolerance for non-Islamic religious groups. For example, the new minister of religious affairs publicly termed himself “the minister of all religious affairs, not just the minister of Muslim affairs,” stating that he did so to highlight the nation’s constitutional respect for the right to freedom of belief. The MRA stated national government policies sought to guard against extremism and held that restrictions on religious freedom sometimes were attributable to overzealous local officials.