Article 36 of the constitution provides for religious freedom, but other laws, policies, and practices have a restrictive effect on religious freedom. The law provides for freedom of belief and opinion and permits citizens to establish institutions whose aims include the protection of fundamental liberties of the citizen. The constitution declares Islam the state religion and prohibits institutions from engaging in behavior incompatible with Islamic morality. Ordinance 06-03 provides for the freedom of non-Muslims to practice religious rites, on condition that the exercise thereof is in keeping with the ordinance, the constitution, and other laws and regulations, and that public order, morality, and the rights and basic freedoms of others are respected. In practice ordinance 06-03 and the penal code enabled the government to shut any informal religious service that took place in private homes or in secluded outdoor settings, and this mainly applied to non-Muslims.
Non-Muslim groups have experienced difficulty when attempting to register with the government. Ordinance 06-03, enforced since February 2008, limits the practice of non-Muslim religions, restricts public assembly for the purpose of worship, and calls for the creation of a national commission to regulate the registration process for non-Muslim religious groups. Government officials asserted that ordinance 06-03 is designed to apply to non-Muslims the same constraints that the penal code imposes on Muslims.
The law requires religious groups to register their organizations with the government prior to conducting any religious activity. The Roman Catholic Church traditionally has been the only officially recognized non-Muslim religious group in the country. In July 2009 the government accredited the first official Jewish organization. The Anglican, Seventh-day Adventist, and other Protestant churches have registration requests that have been pending with the government for up to five years, but reported no government interference in holding their religious services. During the year, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) officially recognized the Algerian Protestant Church (EPA) but only after the fallout from a controversy in which a provincial governor ordered the closure of seven churches.
The National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups regulates the registration process. The ordinance requires organized religious groups to register with the government, controls the importation of religious texts, and orders fines and punishments for individuals who proselytize Muslims.
Both houses of parliament passed a new law on associations in late December that requires the MOI to provide a receipt and timely response when associations attempt to register.
The National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, which is the governmental entity responsible for regulating the registration process for non-Muslim religious groups, reportedly approved one request for accreditation by non-Muslim religious associations on July 1, 2009, for the representation of the Jewish community. The government also allowed for the reopening of 25 synagogues. None of the synagogues is in use and the “reopening” stands as a technical permission that is not being implemented. According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA), the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups has received 14 applications for accreditation from various Protestant denominations. Members of the non-Muslim religious community alleged that the number was higher. Christian citizens who converted from Islam reportedly constituted the vast majority of the groups who sought legal registration.
Executive decree 07-158, which came into effect in early 2009, gives greater precision to ordinance 06-03 by specifying the composition of the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups and the regulations that govern it. It establishes that the minister of religious affairs and waqf (religious endowments) presides over the commission, which is composed of senior representatives of the Ministries of National Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs, the Presidency, the national police, the national gendarmerie, and the governmental National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH). Those who believe they are not being treated fairly by the MRA (both individuals and groups) may address their concerns to the CNCPPDH, but in practice, this avenue of recourse is hardly ever used.
Ordinance 06-03 outlines enforceable restrictions, which stipulate that all structures intended for the exercise of non-Muslim worship must be registered with the state. The ordinance also requires that any modification of structures for non-Muslim worship must have prior government approval and that such worship may take place only in structures exclusively intended and approved for that purpose. Officially non-Muslim worship must take place only in a structure intended for such worship; however, examples existed where this was not enforced.
Executive decree 07-135 gives greater precision to ordinance 06-03 by specifying the manner and conditions under which religious services of non-Muslims may take place. The decree specifies that a request for permission to observe non-Muslim special religious events must be submitted to the wali (governor) at least five days before the event and that the event must occur in buildings accessible to the public. Requests must include information on three principal organizers of the event, its purpose, the number of attendees anticipated, a schedule of events, and its planned location. The organizers also must obtain a permit indicating this information and present it to authorities upon request. Under the decree, the wali can request that the organizers move the place of observance of an event, or deny permission for it to take place if it is deemed a danger to public order. No events were denied during the year.
The MOI has the sole authority to grant association rights to religious or nonreligious groups. Difficulties faced by religious groups in obtaining legal status were similar to those faced by nonreligious civil society groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and others, whose petitions to the MOI generally were met with silence rather than documented refusal. A new law passed by both houses of parliament in December 2011 has measures in place to streamline the registration process, but the law had not been fully implemented by year’s end.
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 secretly held worship services in homes.
The constitution prohibits non-Muslims from running for the presidency. Non-Muslims may hold other public offices and work within the government; however, there was considerable anecdotal evidence from churches that non-Muslims were not promoted to senior posts. As a result many non-Muslims hid their religious affiliation.
Some aspects of the law and many traditional social practices discriminate against women. The family code, which draws on Sharia (Islamic law), treats women as minors under the legal guardianship of a husband or male relative, regardless of the woman’s age. In practice, restrictions against travel, jobs, and education for women are not enforced uniformly. Under the code, Muslim women are prevented from marrying non-Muslim men unless the man converts to Islam, although this regulation was not always enforced. The code does not prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women, but it prohibits men from marrying a woman of a non-monotheistic religious group. Under the law, children born to a Muslim father are considered Muslim regardless of the mother’s religion. In rulings on divorce, custody of the children normally is awarded to the mother, but she may not take them out of the country without the father’s authorization. Under the 2005 family code amendments, women no longer need the consent of a male tuteur (guardian) to marry.
Non-Muslim religious minorities may also suffer in inheritance claims when a Muslim family member lays claim to the same inheritance.
The MRA provided financial support to mosques and paid the salaries of imams. Imams are hired and trained by the state, and observances of Muslim services, with the exception of daily prayers, can be performed only in state-sanctioned mosques.
The penal code states that only government-authorized imams can lead prayer in mosques and establishes strict punishments, including fines of up to 200,000 dinars ($2,782) and prison sentences of one to three years, for anyone other than a government-designated imam who preaches in a mosque. Harsher punishments exist for any person, including government-designated imams, who acts “against the noble nature of the mosque” or acts in a manner “likely to offend public cohesion.” The law does not specify what actions would constitute such acts. The government legally may prescreen and approve sermons before they are delivered publicly during Friday prayers, but more often it provides preapproved sermon topics prior to Friday prayers. In practice each wilaya (province) and daira (county) employed religious officials to review sermon content.
If an imam’s sermon is suspected by a ministry inspector of being inappropriate, he can be summoned to a “scientific council” composed of Islamic law scholars and other imams who will assess the correctness of the sermon. An imam can be relieved of duty if summoned multiple times. During the year, the government’s right of review was not exercised with non-Islamic religious groups. The government also monitors activities in mosques for possible security-related offenses and prohibits the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours.
Conversion is not illegal under civil law, and apostasy is not a criminal offense. The government permitted missionary groups to conduct humanitarian activities as long as they did not proselytize.
Under ordinance 06-03, proselytizing is a criminal offense and carries a punishment of one to three years in jail and a maximum fine of 500,000 dinars ($6,957) for violations by lay individuals, and three to five years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 1 million dinars ($13,914) for violations by religious leaders. The law stipulates a maximum of five years in jail and a 500,000 dinars ($6,957) fine for 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.” Anyone who makes, stores, or distributes printed documents, audiovisual materials, or the like with the intent of “shaking the faith” of a Muslim may also be punished in this manner, but this was not always enforced. Reporting from media, NGOs, and churches suggested that citizens, not foreigners, were the majority of those actively proselytizing in Kabylie. During the year, no new cases against proselytizing could be confirmed.
According to the MRA, female employees of the government are allowed to wear the hijab (women’s headscarf), crosses, and the niqab (Islamic veil that covers the face). However, some female government employees are discouraged from wearing head and face coverings that present complications in the performance of their official duties such as with police officers and hospital employees.
The Ministries of Religious Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Commerce must approve the importation of non-Islamic religious writings. Often, delays of five to six months occurred before obtaining approval, and there have been further delays when books reached customs. The government periodically restricted the importation of Arabic and Tamazight (Berber) translations of non-Islamic religious texts. The government stated that its purpose was to ensure that the number of texts imported was proportional to the estimated number of adherents of religious groups.
Citizens and foreigners may legally bring personal copies of non-Islamic religious texts, such as the Bible, into the country. Non-Islamic religious texts, music, and video cassettes were available, and stores in the capital sold Bibles in several languages, including Arabic, French, and Tamazight (Berber). Government-owned radio stations continued to broadcast Christmas and Easter services in French. The government prohibited the dissemination of any literature that portrayed violence as a legitimate precept of Islam.
The government and private contributions of local believers funded mosque construction. The MRA educational commission is composed of 28 members who are in charge of developing the educational system for teaching the Qur’an. The commission was responsible for establishing policies for hiring teachers at the Qur’anic schools and ensuring that all imams are well qualified and follow governmental guidelines aimed at stemming Islamic extremism.
The Ministries of National Education and Religious Affairs strictly required, regulated, and funded the study of Islam in public schools, but in the past many private schools did not include Islamic studies in their curriculum.
In 2009 the Ministry of National Education required private schools to bring their curriculum in line with national standards. Approximately 150 private schools teaching at the primary and secondary levels were required to revise their curriculum or risk being closed. The schools had approximately two years to comply. Most schools adapted their curriculum to meet national standards and were accredited. There are no known examples of schools voluntarily closing because of differences over religious curriculum or of a school that was forcibly closed, although the Ministry of National Education continued to review curriculum at year’s end. The government stated that the purpose of this measure is to ensure that all private schools followed the national curriculum endorsed by the government, including teaching about Islam, and that Arabic is the primary language of instruction. Consequently, some private school students must register as independent students within the public school system to take national baccalaureate examinations.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Awal Moharem, and Ashura.