The constitution provides for the inviolable right to belief and opinion, but declares Islam the state religion and prohibits state institutions from engaging in behavior incompatible with Islamic morality. Other laws and regulations provide Muslims and non-Muslims the freedom to practice their religion as long as they respect public order, morality, and the rights and basic freedoms of others. There was one report of court sentencing and another of harassment for failure to observe Ramadan fasting practices. There was no progress in the cases of two Christians who had been arrested and tried in prior years on religious grounds. Some non-Muslim groups continued to experience difficulty when attempting to register with the government, which hampered their ability to carry out a full range of normal functions. Christian groups reported irregular delays in receiving responses to their requests for work visas for their personnel, although responsiveness overall improved during the year. Proselytizing to Muslims remained a criminal offense. The government did not, however, regularly enforce the law, and occasionally newspapers published numbers of citizens who converted to Islam, or from Islam to non-Islamic faiths. Government officials increasingly signaled the need for tolerance for non-Islamic religious groups.
Society generally tolerated foreigners and citizens who practiced religions other than Islam. Those who opted not to observe certain Islamic practices sometimes faced a backlash from within their communities. Jews and some Christians kept a low profile due to concerns for their personal safety and potential legal and social problems. Extremists continued to refer to interpretations of religious texts to justify their killing of security force members and civilians. Muslim religious and political leaders publicly condemned acts of violence committed in the name of Islam. During the conflict in Gaza, however, media reported some instances of popularly-expressed anti-Semitic rhetoric.
The U.S. embassy promoted the values of religious tolerance and diversity. Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, met with government officials to discuss religious freedom, specifically encouraging government efforts to promote religious tolerance and citing the difficulties Christian groups face in registering. Embassy public programs covered the issues of religious freedom and diversity. During Ramadan, the embassy hosted several interfaith and intercultural dialogue campaigns, including online in Arabic, French, and English. The embassy organized a radio interview with an American Muslim to discuss her experience practicing her faith in the United States.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 38.8 million (July 2014 estimate). More than 99 percent is Sunni Muslim. Groups together constituting less than 1 percent of the population include Christians, Jews, and a small community of Ibadi Muslims residing in the province of Ghardaia. Some religious leaders estimate there are fewer than 200 Jews. Unofficial estimates of the number of Christians range from 20,000 to 100,000, although these estimates cannot be confirmed. For security reasons stemming mainly from civil conflict during the mid-1990s, Christians reside mostly in the cities of Algiers, Annaba, and Oran. The Christian community includes Roman Catholics and Protestant groups including Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, Reformed Christians, and Anglicans. Some Protestant groups have evangelical wings, most of whose members live in the Kabylie region. The Christian foreign resident population is difficult to estimate, but this group makes up the majority of Christians in the country. In recent years, students and illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa comprise an increasing proportion of this population, and of the overall Christian community. One Christian leader estimates that his church has between 20,000 and 40,000 foreign members, compared to fewer than 100 citizen members. Another religious leader estimates there are between 1,000 and 1,500 Egyptian Coptic Christians residing in the country.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for the inviolable right to belief and opinion, but declares Islam the state religion and prohibits state institutions from engaging in behavior incompatible with Islamic morality. The law permits citizens to establish institutions, the aims of which include the protection of fundamental liberties. The law criminalizes “offending the Prophet Muhammad.” The law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and guarantees state protection for non-Muslims and for the “toleration and respect of different religions.” Government officials state the ordinance is designed to apply to non-Muslims the same constraints imposed on Muslims, including stipulating that religious rites must comply with the law and respect public order, morality, and the rights and basic freedoms of others. The ordinance also outlines registration requirements for non-Muslim religious groups.
The law requires all groups to register with the government as an association prior to conducting any activities. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) registration requirements for associations stipulate that the founding members must: furnish documents proving their identities, addresses, and other biographic details; furnish police and judicial records to prove their good standing in society; represent at least one-quarter of the country’s provinces to prove that the association merits national standing; submit the association’s constitution signed by the president; and submit documents indicating the location of their headquarters. Religious associations must additionally be approved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA), which states that it has never rejected a registration application. For associations that seek to register at the local or provincial level, application requirements are similar, but the association’s membership and sphere of activity is strictly limited to the area in which it registers. An association registered at the wilaya (provincial) level is confined to that wilaya, for example.
The National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, a government entity, is responsible for facilitating the registration process for all non-Muslim groups. The MRA presides over the commission, composed of senior representatives of the Ministries of National Defense, Interior, and 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). The MRA instructs employees of the agencies making up the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups to enforce fairly the ordinance which prohibits religious discrimination, and prohibits “manipulation” influenced by the employees’ own beliefs. Individuals and groups who believe they are not being treated fairly by the MRA may address their concerns to the CNCPPDH, but in practice, this avenue of recourse rarely is used. Non-Muslim religious groups stated that they had never been contacted by the Commission.
The MOI currently has the sole authority to grant association rights to religious and nonreligious groups. The law requires the ministry to provide a receipt for the application, and a timely response when associations apply for registration, but provides the government broad discretion in registration decisions. The law also provides applicants limited opportunities to appeal. The law prevents associations, religious or otherwise, from receiving funding from political parties or foreign entities. The Roman Catholic Church is officially recognized as a major non-Muslim religious group. The Protestant Church of Algeria – a federation of approximately 39 smaller Protestant churches – also is registered with the government; however, the law requires that the churches comprising the federation also obtain official approval on an individual basis.
The law stipulates that all structures intended for non-Muslim collective worship must be registered with the state; any modification of such structures must have prior government approval, and collective worship must take place only in structures exclusively intended and approved for that purpose.
The government may shut down any religious service that takes place in private homes or in outdoor settings without official approval. The law specifies the manner and conditions under which non-Muslim religious services may take place. A decree specifies a request for permission to observe special non-Muslim religious events must be submitted to the relevant wali (governor) at least five days before the event, and 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 location of an event or deny permission for it to take place if it is deemed a danger to public order.
The constitution prohibits non-Muslims from running for the presidency. Non-Muslims may hold other public offices and work within the government.
The family code, which draws on sharia, treats women as minors under the legal guardianship of a husband or male relative, regardless of the woman’s age. The family code prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men unless the man converts to Islam, although this regulation is not always enforced. The code does not prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women, provided the woman belongs to a monotheistic religious group. Women need the consent of a male guardian to marry, but can choose whom to designate as their male guardian. Revisions to the nationality code allow female citizens to transmit their nationality to their children. Under the law, children born to a Muslim father are considered Muslim regardless of the mother’s religion. Members of non-Muslim religious groups may be disadvantaged in inheritance claims if a Muslim family member lays claim to the same inheritance.
The MRA provides financial support to mosques and pays the salaries of imams. Imams are hired and trained by the state. Islamic services, with the exception of daily prayers, can take place only in state-sanctioned mosques. The law also provides for a sum to be paid to non-Muslim religious leaders for their salaries, health care, and retirement benefits, though it is significantly smaller than that provided to imams. In contrast to previous practice, some non-Muslim religious leaders in recent years have opted to receive this compensation.
The penal code states that only government-authorized imams can lead prayer in mosques and penalizes anyone other than a government-designated imam who preaches in a mosque with fines of up to 100,000 dinars ($1,100) and prison sentences of one to three years. Fines as high as 200,000 dinars ($2,300) and prison sentences of three to five years exist for any person, including government-designated imams, who act “against the noble nature of the mosque” or in a manner “likely to offend public cohesion.” The law does not specify which actions would constitute such acts. The government may prescreen and approve sermons before they are delivered publicly during Friday prayers, and sometimes it provides preapproved sermon topics.
If a ministry inspector suspects an imam’s sermon is inappropriate, the inspector can summon the imam to a “scientific council” composed of Islamic law scholars and other imams who assess the sermon’s correctness. The government can relieve an imam of duty if he is summoned multiple times. 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 and apostasy are not illegal. The government permits non-Muslim missionary groups to conduct humanitarian activities, but not to proselytize.
Proselytizing by non-Muslims of Muslims is a criminal offense and carries a maximum punishment of one million dinars ($11,400) and five years’ imprisonment 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.” Making, storing, or distributing printed documents or audiovisual materials with the intent of “shaking the faith” of a Muslim may also be punished in this manner, but the government does not always enforce these restrictions.
The Ministries of Religious Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Commerce must approve the importation of non-Islamic religious writings. Citizens and foreigners may legally import personal copies of non-Islamic religious texts, such as the Bible. The government prohibits dissemination of any literature portraying violence as a legitimate precept of Islam.
The Ministries of National Education and Religious Affairs strictly require, regulate, and fund the study of Islam in public schools. Religious education, which focuses on Islam but includes information on Christianity and Judaism, is mandatory at the primary and secondary school levels. Christian leaders express concern that requests by non-Muslims to opt-out of the Islamic-based courses would result in societal abuse or discrimination. The Ministry of National Education requires private schools to adhere to curricula in line with national standards, particularly regarding the teaching of Islam and the use of Arabic as the primary language of instruction, or risk being closed.
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.
Abuses by Rebel or Foreign Forces or Terrorist Organizations
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a terrorist group, continued to target the government, claiming it was an apostate regime. A new group, Jund al-Khalifa, formed, swearing allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and denouncing those who disagreed with their interpretation of Islam, including other terrorist groups. This group in September kidnapped and killed a French citizen claiming the act was “to defend [their] beloved Islamic State.” Muslim religious and political leaders publicly criticized acts of violence committed in the name of Islam. The ministers of religious affairs and foreign affairs in September individually condemned such “despicable” terrorist actions, particularly of ISIL, stating “this organization claims a name that it is far from deserving because Islam is innocent of ignoble terrorist acts.”
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Society generally tolerated foreigners who practiced religions other than Islam, although citizens who opted not to observe certain Islamic practices sometimes faced a backlash from elements in their communities. Islamist groups seeking to rid the country of those who do not share their interpretation of Islam continued to commit violent acts, and the government stated they posed a significant security threat.
According to the local press, groups of dozens of people in the Kabylie region publicly broke the fast during daylight hours several times during the month of Ramadan, to show support for religious tolerance and opposition to government and societal pressure to adhere to specific religious norms. People in the region also broke their fast in demonstrations last year, reportedly to model tolerance. Also several times throughout Ramadan, groups ranging from dozens to more than 100 people publicly prayed together and then broke their fast in the evening, in accordance with Ramadan tradition, as a demonstration in defense of Muslim values, a practice that was observed in 2013 as well. Security forces observed these events but did not intervene.
On July 19, according to local press, approximately 20 people in Bejaia, capital of the Kabylie region, were publicly breaking their Ramadan fast during daylight hours in a demonstration for religious tolerance, when a group of several dozen others, offended by the non-observance of fasting, violently dispersed the gathering. Local press described the group that broke up the demonstration as Islamist activists and reported that after the group not observing the fast dispersed, the activists threatened the nearby Bejaia cultural center, saying they would burn it down if evening musical events were held there again. In response, local authorities decided to cancel planned cultural activities at that site during the subsequent several days.
In December a Salafist activist writing on Facebook accused author Kamel Daoud of apostasy and called on the authorities to execute him for “waging war on Allah, his prophet, the Quran, and the values sacred to Islam.” In response, approximately 50 of the nation’s intellectuals reportedly called on the ministers of culture, religious affairs, and communications to take action to protect citizen artists and end “terror” in the country. The ministers of religious affairs and communications publicly denounced the verbal attack on the author.
Society generally tolerated foreigners who practiced religions other than Islam. Jewish citizens and some Muslim citizens who converted to Christianity kept a low profile due to concern for their personal safety and potential legal, familial, career, and social problems. Christian leaders reported anecdotal cases in which Muslim parents successfully pressured their Muslim children to divorce their Christian spouses. Other citizens who converted to Christianity, however, openly practiced their new religion. Although maintaining a low profile, Jewish leaders said they felt comfortable socially among their Muslim neighbors. Some Muslim citizens showed appreciation for Catholic places of worship, including visiting them for prayer and to share spiritual concerns with Catholic religious figures.
According to local press, dozens of Muslim citizens attempted in July to demonstrate in Algiers against the intention, expressed by the minister of religious affairs, to consider reopening synagogues. The press identified the participants as Salafist Muslims and said they chanted slogans hostile to non-Muslims. The police blocked and dispersed the protesters.
Media coverage of the Gaza conflict coincided with instances of popularly-expressed anti-Semitism. In August Jamaican rapper Sean Paul postponed indefinitely his planned concert in Algiers because of online threats and a boycott movement that focused on a photograph in which Paul, wearing a yarmulke, prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem as a tribute to his Jewish ancestry. The period in which the concert was to be held coincided with the conflict in Gaza.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, met with government officials to discuss religious freedom, specifically questioning the difficulties Christian groups faced in registering as associations and receiving visas.
The Ambassador and other embassy officials also met with religious leaders and representatives of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities.
The embassy maintained contact with several Islamist political parties and Islamic political figures, as well as the Muslim Scholars Association. Muslim scholars, members of Islamist political parties, and Muslim scouts were regularly nominated for embassy-supported international exchange programs. The minister of religious affairs noted to the Ambassador that participants on such programs came back with an expanded appreciation for religious diversity and the practice of religious tolerance.
During Ramadan the embassy ran several interfaith and intercultural dialogue campaigns to reach out to national audiences and the embassy’s social media followers. A Muslim-American U.S. government official gave an interview to Radio Koran describing her personal experience practicing Islam as an American, to illustrate American support for religious diversity and tolerance.
Also during Ramadan, the embassy hosted a series of live discussion sessions focused around the Arab Muslim experience in the United States that highlighted the value placed on tolerance of religious and cultural diversity. The embassy also held an Arabic-language web chat in which a community activist described her experiences as a Muslim American and answered participants’ questions about her religious practice and freedom. The embassy website also promoted State Department English-language videos focusing on Muslims in the United States, and ran a campaign on social media focused on tolerance and diversity, with postings in Arabic, French, and English.
Sources:US State Department