Whilst the Constitution provides for religious freedom, its preamble also defines Islam as an element in the country’s identity. Apostasy is not a crime but getting a Muslim to change religion is. An Algerian Christian is accused of offending Muhammad.
Algiers (AsiaNews) – In Algeria, is the context clear? The vast majority of Algerians are Sunni Muslims. There are a few hundred Algerian Jews. It is estimated that there are between 20,000 and 100,000 Christians, but accurate figures are unfortunately not available.
Most Christians are foreigners, many from sub-Saharan Africa. But there are Catholic and Protestant communities in the country. The Catholic Church is the largest Christian entity, organised in four dioceses. There are also Evangelical communities, especially in the region of Kabylia. Some Muslims have converted to Christianity and those who have done so joined evangelical communities.
From a legal point of view, the preamble of the Algerian Constitution states that Islam is a fundamental element in the country's identity. Article 2 states that Islam is the religion of the state and Article 10 bans state institutions from doing anything against Islamic morality. However, the paradox lies with Articles 36 and 73. The first guarantees freedom of conscience, which includes freedom of worship within the limits of the law, although that is not explicitly stated in the text. The second says that only a Muslim can become president.
Under Algerian law, apostasy is not a criminal offense. Religious offenses are covered by Article 144 bis of the Penal Code, which imposes a prison sentence of three to five years and a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Algerian dinars (US$ 631 to 1,263) on anyone who offends the Prophet and the envoys of God, or denigrates the dogma or precepts of Islam, whether by writing, drawing, in a statement or any other means. This is a threatening article that prevents us from criticising Islam, especially from trying to come up with new Quranic interpretations.
Whilst Algeria allows religious organisations to participate in humanitarian work, it punishes Christian proselytising with a fine and imprisonment of up to five years against anyone who “incites, compels or uses means of seduction to convert a Muslim to another religion, or by using for this purpose educational, health, social, cultural or vocational institutions [. . .] or any financial means.”
In 2006, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika issued Ordinance 06-03 to regulate the celebration of faiths other than Islam. Although it does not prohibit conversion as such, the ordinance prohibits any attempt to convert a Muslim to another religion or to "shake the faith of a Muslim".
Recently, on 2 March, an Algerian Christian from the Wilaya (Province) of Tiaret, southwest of the capital Algiers, arrested by the security services for possession of evangelical books, appeared before a court in Frenda, in the same wilaya. He was accused with having "shaken the faith of a Muslim" and was sentenced by to six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars.
Freedom of worship is threatened in Algeria. The law does not protect Christians; instead, it condemns them. Constitutional articles contradict each other and are paradoxical. Christian books and textbooks are rare in the country, and Christians do not feel free to carry Christian-related materials with them.
Under Ordinance 06-03, Algerians are liable to a fine of up to a million dinars and a five-year prison sentence for printing, storing or distributing equipment intended to convert Muslims. This was the case of Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian and human rights defender who was incarcerated for insulting the Prophet in certain publications and on social media.
The former official with the Presidency of the Republic was sentenced by a lower court to 6 years in prison, which was upheld on appeal, causing a grassroots reaction especially in the region of Bejaia (Kabylia) even though he comes from Setif.
The controversy was fuelled by the fact that he went public with his Christian faith. Ten days ago, and fortunately for his family and friends, Slimane Bouhafs, was released after two full years of arbitrary detention.
In a country where Islam is the state religion, he dared to publish pictures showing the caricature of the Prophet Mohamed. In other words, it is better to be a Muslim in France than a Christian in Algeria.
Islam in this country is like that of all other Muslim countries. It is a religion that has states, preachers, soldiers and funding to build together the temple of sacred ignorance.
 Présidence de la République, Avant-projet de révision de la constitution, République algérienne démocratique et populaire, http://www.constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/algeria_french.pdf, (accessed 16 April 2018).
 Global Legal Research Directorate and Hanibal Goitom (Foreign Legal Specialist and Coordinator), ‘Algeria’, Laws Criminalizing Apostasy, Library of Congress, May 2014, http://www.loc.gov/law/help/apostasy/#_ftn11,%20http://www.lexpressiondz.com/actualite/228266-la-loi-interdit-le-proselytisme.html,%20http://www.joradp.dz/FTP/jo-francais/2006/F2006012.pdf, (accessed 16 April 2018).