Summary Paragraph: Police investigated hundreds and arrested dozens of Ahmadi Muslims in several cities and towns in connection with the practice of their religion, according to leaders of the Ahmadi community. MRA representatives, including the minister, continued to make public statements warning against the spread of “foreign” religious influences such as Salafism, Wahhabism, Shia Islam, and Ahmadi Islam. In April the then chief of staff to the president called on citizens to “protect the country from the Shia and Ahmadi sects.” An Islamic religious council declared that Ahmadi beliefs are outside of Islam. In February the minister of religious affairs stated that Ahmadis were “damaging the very basis of Islam.” While in April the minister said he did not intend to combat members of the Ahmadi community and that the government’s actions were solely intended to enforce laws on associations and the collection of donations, he stated in July Ahmadis were manipulated by a “foreign hand” aimed at destabilizing the country, according to Human Rights Watch. The president commuted the sentence of a Christian convert arrested in 2016 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook, but as of October the convert remained imprisoned. Another individual, sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in 2016 for Facebook posts deemed insulting to Islam, was released on June 14 as part of a general amnesty. Authorities closed a church in Oran, and sought to close another in Kabylie, according to Protestant church leaders. Some Christian groups continued to report facing a range of administrative difficulties in the absence of a written government response to their requests for recognition as associations. MRA officials, including the minister, continued to state publicly the government’s willingness to accommodate minority faiths that wished to practice in the country by opening places of worship. Christian leaders stated the lack of government responsiveness to visa applications continued to pose complications for religious workers.
MRA representatives continued to make public statements warning against the spread of “foreign” religious influences such as Salafism, Wahhabism, Shia Islam, and Ahmadi Islam. In April the president’s then-chief of staff called on citizens to “protect the country from Shia and Ahmadi sects.”
Throughout the year, the government conducted investigations of at least 205 Ahmadi Muslims, arresting dozens, according to leaders of the Ahmadi community. Charges included operating an unregistered religious association, collecting funds without authorization, and holding prayers in unauthorized locations. As of December, five Ahmadi Muslims remained imprisoned, according to members of the Ahmadi community. Approximately 30 others were found guilty but, as of October, remained free while they appealed the charges. In February an Algerian Islamic religious council, whose membership is determined by government-appointed officials, declared that Ahmadi beliefs are outside of Islam. That same month, the minister of religious affairs stated that Ahmadis were “damaging the very basis of Islam.” Although in April he said he did not intend to combat members of the Ahmadi community and that the government’s actions were solely intended to enforce laws on associations and the collection of donations, in July, according to Human Rights Watch, he stated that Ahmadis were manipulated by a “foreign hand” aimed at destabilizing the country. A lawyer for the Ahmadi community said judges and prosecutors on several occasions questioned Ahmadi defendants in court about their religious beliefs and theological differences with Sunni Islam. Members of the Ahmadi community said government officials tried to persuade them to recant their beliefs while they were in custody.
In July, as part of a presidential amnesty, authorities commuted the sentence of Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert who in 2016 had been sentenced to five years in prison plus a 100,000 dinars ($870) fine for posting statements on his Facebook page deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. A court had previously reduced his sentence to three years, and he was scheduled for release in March 2018 as a result of the commutation; he remained imprisoned as of year’s end. Rachid Fodil, who was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in 2016 for Facebook posts deemed insulting to Islam, was released on June 14 as part of a general amnesty for prisoners who obtained a diploma.
Christian leaders said courts were sometimes biased against non-Muslims in family law cases, such as divorce or custody proceedings.
MRA officials said the government did not regularly prescreen and approve sermons before imams delivered them during Friday prayers, but also stated it sometimes provided preapproved sermon topics for Friday prayers to address the public’s concerns following major events or to encourage civic participation through activities such as donating blood and voting in legislative elections. The MRA said it did not punish imams who failed to discuss the suggested sermon topics.
The government monitored the sermons delivered in mosques. According to MRA officials, if a ministry inspector suspected an imam’s sermon was inappropriate, particularly if it supported violent extremism, 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, such as recruitment by extremist groups, and prohibited the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours.
The government continued to enforce the ban on proselytizing by non-Muslim groups. Several Christian representatives stated continued government observance of the ordinance against proselytizing by non-Muslims prompted churches to restrict some activities not related to proselytizing, such as the distribution of religious literature and holding of events in the local community that Muslims might attend.
Authorities closed a church in Oran and sought to close another in Tizi Ouzou Province, according to Protestant church leaders. A November 9 letter from the MOI ordered the closure of the House of Hope Church in Ain Turk, Oran, stating the church was not legally registered to operate and was printing materials for proselytizing. Church leaders said the House of Hope Church was a branch of the nationally registered Protestant Church of Algeria and the premises were not used for the printing of any materials for proselytization. Municipal officials in Tizi Ouzou Province ordered the closure of a church in the area, saying the church building was not authorized to be used for prayer services. The church contested the closure in court, and it remained in operation in December as legal proceedings continued.
Some Christian citizens said they continued to use homes or businesses as “house churches” due to government delays in issuing the necessary legal authorizations. Authorities generally permitted such churches to operate. Other Christian groups, particularly in the Kabylie region, reportedly held worship services more discreetly. No houses were shut down during the year, but litigation seeking to shut down one house church was ongoing at year’s end.
Christian leaders reported being able to visit Christians in prison.
According to the MOI, although religious associations were de facto registered if the ministry did not reject their applications within 60 days of submission, the 60-day clock did not begin until the ministry considered the application complete and had issued a receipt to that effect. NGOs and religious leaders said the MOI routinely failed to provide them with a receipt proving they had submitted a completed registration application.
Several religious groups that had been registered under the previous associations law prior to 2012 continued to try to reregister with the government. The Protestant Church of Algeria submitted paperwork to renew its registration in 2014 but as of year’s end had still not received a response from the MOI; this was also the case with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Some religious groups stated they viewed themselves as registered 60 days after having submitted their application, even though they had not received an MOI confirmation. Such groups stated, however, that service providers, such as utilities and banks, refused to provide services, insisting on proof of registration. As a result, these groups faced the same administrative obstacles as unregistered associations and also had limited standing to pursue legal complaints and could not engage in charitable activities, which required bank accounts.
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. Other MRA officials, however, met regularly with Christian leaders to hear their views, including complaints about the registration process. Christian leaders stated some Protestant groups continued to avoid applying for recognition and instead operated discreetly because they lacked confidence in the registration process.
According to the MRA, the government continued to allow government employees to wear religious clothing including the hijab, crosses, and the niqab. Authorities continued to instruct some female government employees, such as security force members, not to wear head and face coverings that could complicate the performance of their official duties.
The government did not grant any permits for the importation of Christian religious texts during the year. Christian organizations stated they had been waiting more than a year for a new import authorization; the last such authorization was in October 2016. 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.
The government, along with local Muslims making private contributions, 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, continued to work in partnership with local donors on an extensive renovation of Notre Dame de Santa Cruz as part of its cultural patrimony.
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 leading Christian and Jewish citizens to events celebrating national occasions; for example, the president invited Christian and Jewish community representatives to the November 1 parade to commemorate the beginning of the revolution, according them the same status as Muslim, cultural, and national figures.
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. In response to terrorist attacks in other countries during the year, including in the United Kingdom, Russia, and Spain, the government issued statements calling the attacks “criminal acts” for taking innocent human lives in contradiction to the tenets of Islam.
Government officials regularly made statements about the need for tolerance of non-Islamic religious groups. In April imams, representatives from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and municipal officials participated in an interfaith event at a Catholic church in Algiers featuring Christian and Muslim prayers and a panel discussion on Quranic and Biblical teachings on the environment.
Church groups reported the government did not respond to their requests for visas for religious workers and visiting scholars and speakers, resulting in an increase in de facto visa refusals. One Christian leader said, of 21 visa requests, only two were approved. Catholic and Protestant groups continued to identify the delays as a significant hindrance to religious practice. One religious leader identified lack of visa issuances as a major impediment to maintaining contact with the church’s international organization. Higher-level intervention with officials responsible for visa issuance by senior MRA and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials at the request of religious groups sometimes resulted in the issuance of long-term visas, according to those groups.