12/18/2020, 14.07
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The Algerian state, Sunni Islam and violations of religious freedom

by Kamel Abderrahmani

Illiberal laws try to impose a certain view as an absolute “truth”. The law and justice system are used to target Muslim minorities as well as Christians. Islamic radicals demand “justice” against “apostates”. The Algerian League for Human Rights is silent and indifferent to such persecution.


Paris (AsiaNews) – Freedom of expression and conscience is a major issue in Muslim majority countries, especially in Algeria. Such freedom is fading, even almost no longer existent. Through illiberal laws, the Algerian state is trying to impose its “truth” as the truth, namely Sunni Islam or one of its institutional and formal versions.

In put it plainly, the Algerian state is the image of the Muslim majority: each movement is convinced that its understanding of Islam is “real one” and that the others are heretical and false. However, there is danger in the desire to impose one Sunni version on the followers of other movements in Islam or to silence ex-Muslims, atheists or converts to Christianity, by legal means. The law should instead serve justice and citizens rather than religion. Apostasy is not considered a crime under Algerian law, as stipulated by Article 144 bis of the Penal Code.

The hunt for non-Sunni Muslims and Christian converts is in full swing and takes on serious tones in Algeria. The unscrupulous Algerian state has decided to prosecute around 30 Ahmadi Muslims for membership in a religious movement that is different from the one recognised as Algeria’s official Islam, namely Sunnism. They are set to appear before a court in Tizi-Ouzou next week.

It should be noted that this is not the first time that religious minorities have been attacked and punished by a court in Algeria. In 2017, the head of this Muslim movement in Algeria was convicted by an Algerian court. A Christian convert, Slimane Bouhafs who is currently in exile in Tunisia, suffered a similar fate, as did political activist Amira Bouaroui who was convicted for attacking the Prophet.

None of this is accidental. All this is a consequence of the hostility of official Sunni leaders towards the Ahmadiyya. For Sunni scholars, “The Ahmadiyya is a devastating and disbelieving doctrine that uses Islam to mask its treacherous goals and corrupt beliefs.” The persecution of Ahmadis and the hostile rhetoric by ministers of religious affairs only increase intolerance towards minority beliefs, be they Islamic or not.

Citing non-Muslims or Christian converts, Algerian authorities continue to persecute them. Young converts are often charged with “insulting the prophet and violating the precepts or dogmas of Islam.” The Algerian constitution guarantees both freedom of expression and freedom of worship, but what happens on the ground is something else. The state shows its disguised Islamist nature and hostility towards anything that is non-Sunni.

Christians have also suffered from moral harassment by Algerian courts; for example, the court in Amizour (Béjaïa) convicted Abdelghani Mameri, a Copt who wished to promote the Orthodox Church in Algeria, was convicted on Tuesday, 15 December 2020, to “six months in prison and a fine of 100,000 dinars.” The courtroom was stormed by Muslims with long, shaggy beards – a symbol of fanaticism and Islamic sham – who came to support the justice system against the “apostate”.

Mabrouk Bouakkaz, also known as Yuva, is another young convert. He was tried on 3 December by the same court. The prosecution demanded “six months in prison and a 200,000 dinars fine” for the same offence, namely “insulting the prophet and violating of precepts or dogma of Islam.” The verdict was expected on 17 December 2020, but has not yet been pronounced.

The virulent reactions by the Algerian state are not so astonishing. Described as a lingering dictatorship, Algeria is ruled by people who use the justice system to impose Islam in its Sunni version on the entire population. In Algeria, in the collective imagination, to be Algerian you have to be Sunni; no distinction is made between belonging to a homeland or to a religion. Differences are banned and religious freedom does not apply to non-Sunni Muslims or non-Muslims. However, what is striking, even startling, is the silence of the Algerian League for Human Rights and its indifference towards the religious persecution endured by religious minorities in Algeria. This shows that human rights in Algeria are not for non-Sunni and non-Muslim Algerians.

In short, although freedom of conscience is enshrined in the constitution, it is still far, very far from being a reality; it remains a dream for some Algerians, because today the Sunni practice of Islam is imposed on the whole of society, to such an extent that during Ramadan, Algerians who can afford it prefer to flee their country to live their freedom in peace without threats, whilst the others are silenced, forced to practise their beliefs in the shadows to avoid the official and solemn persecution that the Algerian state carries out against them.

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