The government sentenced a journalist in absentia for “offending the Prophet Muhammad,” and delayed the journalist’s appeal. There continued to be no developments in the appeals of two Christians who had been arrested and tried in prior years, one for proselytizing and one for “offending the Prophet Muhammad.” Some Christian groups continued to face a range of administrative difficulties in the absence of a written government response to their requests for recognition as associations. In June security forces attempted to break up a group of individuals eating and drinking in private during Ramadan. The government announced the replacement of volunteer imams at 55 mosques in Algiers for “spreading Salafism.” In November the Ministry provided authorization to import Bibles and religious materials; Christians had been seeking this approval to import these texts since May 2014. Christian leaders stated the lack of government responsiveness to visa applications continued to pose complications for religious workers. Ministry of Religious Affairs officials, including the minister, continued to state publicly the government’s willingness to accommodate minority faiths who wished to practice in the country by opening places of worship.
The judiciary sentenced journalist Mohamed Chergui in abstentia, on February 24, to three years imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 dinars ($2,300) for “insulting the Prophet” following charges filed by the newspaper which had employed him. Chergui had authored an article in mid-2014 about European research on “Quranic expressions,” which had prompted the newspaper to fire him and pursue a legal complaint. He appealed; his appeal was postponed three times during the year and remained in this status as of the end of the year. His lawyers lodged a countercomplaint against the paper on labor-practice grounds.
There were no developments in the appeal case of Mohamed Ibaouene, a Christian in Tizi Ouzou who had been convicted in absentia in 2012 of pressuring a local Muslim to convert from Islam, which was the most recent government prosecution of a proselytization case.
An appeal hearing continued to be delayed for Abdelkrim Siaghi, a Christian convert who had been sentenced to five years in prison in May 2011 for offending the Prophet Muhammad.
The Protestant Church reported in December the authorities had arrested a Christian in Mostaganem; the Church leader stated his suspicion the arrest was motivated by the man’s religious identity. Two police had reportedly stopped the man and asked him if he was a local who was preaching the Gospel, which he did not deny. The police searched his car and found four Bibles and a small utility knife with his tools in his trunk. The police released him but the next day arrested him for “possession of a weapon.” He was jailed for one week, tried on December 7, acquitted, and released.
Christian leaders reported being able to visit foreign Christians, most of whom were migrants, in prison. One church leader reported the non-Muslim prison population, to his knowledge, consisted of people convicted for nonreligious offenses, sometimes related to their illegal status within the country.
MRA representatives, including the minister of religious affairs, continued to make public statements warning against the spread of “extremist” Salafism, Wahhabism, Shia Islam, Ahmadi Islam, and the Bahai Faith. For example, in a radio interview in June, Minister Aissa stated Wahhabism had “no place” in the country. On July 16, Minister Aissa made a public statement warning about the dangers of radical Salafism, as well as the “intrusion” of Shia Islam.
Senior government officials publicly condemned acts of violence committed in the name of Islam by nonstate actors, and urged all members of society to reject extremist behavior. Foreign Minister Lamamra represented the country in the international march against terrorism that took place in Paris in January following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. In response to terrorist attacks in other countries during the year, including in Tunisia, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, France, and Turkey, the government issued statements calling the attacks “criminal acts” for taking innocent human lives in contradiction to the tenets of Islam.
On June 22, the minister of religious affairs announced the government had replaced volunteer imams at 55 mosques in Algiers for “spreading Salafism.” The government said it had permitted the volunteers to take up imams’ duties at these mosques in earlier years, but was rescinding the temporary authorization for these volunteers to preach, and replacing them with state-approved imams.
The government continued to recognize a number of non-Muslim religious groups as religious associations, including the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. The Protestant Church of Algeria – a federation of approximately 39 smaller Protestant churches – and some other groups which had been registered under the previous associations law remained engaged in the process of reregistering with the government under the new associations law of 2012.
MRA officials stated the delay in approvals had arisen because the government had hoped to issue a refinement of the law specifically to address religious associations. The MRA stated it had never rejected a registration application for a religious group. Along with the Protestant Church of Algeria, the Seventh-day Adventist and Reformed Churches also had registration requests pending with the government and were not clear what their registration standing was. Some had submitted their paperwork and, under the law, were de facto approved after 60 days, but without official papers to show affirming their approval, still faced the same administrative constraints as unregistered associations. Members of these churches reported there continued to be no government interference with their holding religious services, but said they continued to face administrative and bureaucratic difficulties as a result of their lack of documented registered status, including 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. Most Christian leaders stated they had had no contact with the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, despite its legal mandate to work with them on registration, since its establishment in 2006. Christian leaders stated some Protestant groups continued to avoid applying for recognition and instead operated discreetly because they lacked confidence in the registration process.
MRA officials said Muslim associations remained equally burdened under this process because the opening of every new mosque required the formation of an association under the law. Government officials stated the law was designed to apply the same constraints to non-Muslims as those imposed on Muslims, including stipulating the compliance of religious rites with the law and respect for public order, morality, and the rights and basic freedoms of others.
According to some Christian leaders, individuals and groups who believed they were not being treated fairly by the MRA rarely addressed their concerns to the CNCPPDH. The MRA said it instructed employees of the agencies making up the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups to enforce fairly the ordinance which prohibited religious discrimination, and it prohibited its employees from manipulating application of the law based on the employees’ own beliefs.
In November, in response to remarks by Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who urged Algerian Shiites to practice their faith openly, religious leaders publicly called al-Sadr’s statement “dangerous” interference in the country’s life. Minister Aissa stated Shia in the country discussed their faith in universities and in their private lives, but Shia “ideology” was not present in the country’s mosques.
According to national press, on June 24, during Ramadan, security forces entered a commercial establishment to break up a group of nonfasting customers who were eating during daylight, out of public view. The press reported the security forces gave the individuals back their identity papers and left the establishment when the group verbally resisted the security forces’ intervention. Afterwards, approximately a dozen citizens reportedly assembled at the location to show solidarity with the nonfasting clients’ rights to freedom of conscience. The minister of religious affairs, ministry officials, and preachers publicly reiterated the government’s position on fasting as a purely private choice. MRA officials stated the involvement of security forces in demonstrations by either nonfasting or pro-fasting citizens was to prevent clashes and uphold public order. The government also stated breaking the fast was not a criminal act, but security forces, in order to uphold public order, were authorized to break up “collective” fast-breaking on the grounds it was socially disruptive.
The government continued to prescreen and approve sermons before they were delivered publicly during Friday prayers, and sometimes provided preapproved sermon topics for Friday prayers, for example to urge compliance with government-led public campaigns against violence or corruption.
According to information provided by MRA officials, if a ministry inspector suspected an imam’s sermon was inappropriate, the inspector had the authority to summon the imam to a “scientific council” composed of Islamic law scholars and other imams who assessed the sermon’s correctness. The government could decide to relieve an imam of duty if he was summoned multiple times. The government also monitored activities in mosques for possible security-related offenses and prohibited the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours.
Judiciary officials in November summoned nine local Shia converts and a number of local Salafists in connection with an anonymous threatening letter sent to a police officer in Tlemcen, according to a local press article. The authorities also opened an investigation into Shia converts in the country. The citizens summoned by the officials denied any connection with the threats of violence and stated they had a right, under the constitution, to convert to another belief. The prosecutor’s office also sought the counsel of the Ministry of Religious Affairs about how to handle Shia converts. The security services did not release the contents of the letter or explain why the letter had triggered the investigation into Shia converts and anti-Shia Salafist citizens.
The government continued not to permit non-Muslim groups to proselytize, but continued to allow them to conduct humanitarian activities. A Christian representative stated continued government observance of the ordinance against proselytizing by non-Muslims resulted in their church restricting some nonproselytization activities.
There were no reported cases of government prosecution of Christian citizens who continued to meet in unofficial “house churches,” which were often homes or businesses of church members. Authorities reportedly did not prosecute practitioners as long as house churches otherwise respected public order. Some of these groups met openly, while others held worship services more discreetly. These groups were most frequently reported in the Kabylie region. Ministry of Religious Affairs officials privately urged such groups to come forward and operate in the open, saying the country tolerated religious minorities.
Christian leaders stated internment costs for a Christian burial in both public and private cemeteries continued to be higher than for a Muslim burial rite and said this was due to discrimination. Christian leaders said 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 reported some villages continued not to permit Christians to be buried alongside Muslims. The government stated people whose lifestyle gave the impression they were non-Muslims were buried in Muslim cemeteries on the basis of their family’s testimonies. A ministry official stated where burial grounds were private, the cases were outside of the government’s domain.
According to the MRA, the government continued to allow female government employees to wear the hijab, crosses, and the niqab (Islamic veil covering the face). Authorities continued to instruct some female government employees, such as security forces, not to wear head and face coverings which could complicate the performance of their official duties.
The government did not always enforce the family code prohibition against Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men.
Government-owned radio stations continued to broadcast Christmas and Easter services in French, although many Christians said they would prefer services to be broadcast in Arabic or Tamazight.
Government officials continued to invite Christian leaders to events celebrating national occasions according them the same status as Muslim, cultural, and national figures. The Ministry of Religious Affairs reported it held consultations with a representative of the Jewish community to discuss the community’s views.
For most of the year, the government continued to restrict the large-scale importation of non-Islamic religious texts. In May local press reported on Christian leaders’ complaints the government had not approved the importation of Bibles or religious materials since May 2014, and described the steps Christian leaders had taken to attempt to address this issue with the government. In November the government granted official permission to import Christian religious texts for one authorized organization, which has sole standing to import Bibles on behalf of all Christian entities in the country. Citizens and foreigners continued to be allowed to import personal copies of non-Islamic texts. Throughout the year, non-Islamic religious texts, music, and video media continued to be available on the informal market, and stores and vendors in the capital sold Bibles in several languages, including Arabic, French, and Tamazight. The government enforced its prohibition on dissemination of any literature portraying violence as a legitimate precept of Islam.
Protestant leaders continued seeking to regain property rights to five churches reportedly given to the Protestant Church of Algeria during the 1970s, but occupied by other groups when the churches were vacated the properties during the internal conflict in the 1990s. The Church leaders said some local officials blocked their efforts while permitting other associations to make use of the space. One church group said it continued to meet only thanks to a separate church which permitted the group to borrow its facility, as the group had lost access to its former site and could not obtain its own new space.
The government, along with private contributions from local Muslims, continued to fund mosque construction. The government and public and private companies also funded the preservation of some churches, particularly those of historical importance. The province of Oran, for example, undertook in partnership with local benefactors an extensive renovation of Notre-Dame de Santa Cruz as part of its cultural patrimony.
The minister of religious affairs in press remarks in June stated the government’s willingness to respond to a request to open a synagogue, while saying Jewish religious authorities did not believe there was a large enough Jewish community to require a synagogue. A ministry official said the ministry would be equally willing to open any other religious place of worship at the request of a minority population.
The 28 members of the MRA educational commission, which had developed the curriculum for teaching the Quran, continued to ensure imams were qualified and followed governmental guidelines aimed at countering violent extremism.
Christian leaders expressed continued concern over the potential for requests by non-Muslims to opt-out of the Islamic-based school courses to lead to societal abuse or discrimination.
Members of non-Muslim religious groups continued to report disadvantages in inheritance claims if a Muslim family member laid claim to the same inheritance.
On October 16, the president’s chief of staff, speaking also as head of the National Democratic Rally at a party meeting, stated the leader of the regional Movement for Self-Determination of Kabylie (MAK) was trying to “help the Zionists” and accused him of “selling Algeria to the Jews.” In an interview responding to the chief of staff’s remarks, the MAK leader denounced the use of a “racist phrase,” which he said increased “anti-Semitism and the hatred of Jews.”
The MRA continued to support and help organize conferences on interfaith dialogue. Government officials regularly made statements about the need for tolerance for non-Islamic religious groups. During Ramadan, the government continued to dedicate numerous media programs to promoting interfaith tolerance, a message the government instructed imams to amplify in their sermons.
Church groups continued to report government delays in responding to the visa applications of religious workers, with the government often providing no response rather than a documented refusal. Both Catholic and Protestant groups continued to identify this as a significant hindrance to religious practice; one Protestant leader said without visits to establish better contact with their church’s international organization, the congregation’s practices might “drift.” Visas granted by the government continued to be short-stay tourist visas, rather than the requested long-term work visas; religious leaders reported recipients of these visas were uncomfortable working with churches while on tourist visas. Higher-level intervention with the officials responsible for visa issuance by senior MRA and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials at the request of religious groups continued typically to result in the issuance of such visas, according to religious groups.
Christians reported they continued to encounter refusals or delays when seeking government authorization to give Biblical names to their children, but said a second request following a refusal typically led to approval. The MRA stated similar delays sometimes occurred with “foreign” sounding names, Tamazight names, or Arab names which 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.