The new set of regulations which were introduced by the Algerian government in 2006 to legislate the religious activities of non-Muslims severely threatens the growing Christian Church in that country. They not only contravene the Algerian Constitution, but also the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Algeria has signed.
The Algerian Constitution
Article 29 states that “Citizens are equal before the law with no discrimination on the basis of birth, race, gender, opinion or any other personal or social condition or circumstance”. Article 32 states “The fundamental liberties and human rights of the citizen are guaranteed”. Article 41 guarantees “the liberties of expression, association and gathering”.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948
The guarantee of the freedom of religious worship is a fundamental human right. The UDHR guarantees in article 18 “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966
Article 18 states that everyone “shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” Article 19 goes on to state that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
The new Algerian regulations not only contradict the various articles mentioned above, but are also self-contradictory in that the preamble (article 4) states that “It is forbidden to use religious affiliation as the basis for discrimination towards any person or group of persons.” However the regulations then proceed to do just that, discriminating in numerous ways against the religion of Algerian non-Muslim citizens who for the most part would be Christians.
Articles 6-8 legislate for the use of premises by Christians – all worship and religious gatherings must be in designated approved places, public and subject to prior declaration. This gives the state the ability to forbid groups and meetings of which it disapproves. More generally, this could prevent house groups, prayer meetings, Bible studies or any other gatherings in private houses as they would not be “public and subject to prior declaration”. Specifically this contravenes the right to meet in private.
Article 9 gives powers of oversight to a National Commission which in particular must give “prior approval for the formation of associations of a religious character”. As well as the ability to render illegal or hinder the operation of faiths of which the government disapproves, small religious groups would find it impossible to gain official permission as the laws on forming associations require 15 members.
Article 10 contains a vague threat against “resistance” to the new laws with sanctions ranging from fines to up to five years in prison. It is not clear what this will mean in practice but it might be used to outlaw legitimate peaceful criticism.
Article 11 threatens fines and imprisonment for anyone who “incites, constrains or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion”. Possession of materials likely to “shake the faith of a Muslim” also becomes illegal. The word “incite” could be interpreted to include all testimony, witness, outreach or even answering questions about Christianity from Muslim friends. It could even be deemed illegal to possess a Bible or New Testament.
Article 12 forbids taking up collections or receiving financial gifts without prior authorisation by the state.
Article 13 forbids leading an act of worship, organising a religious assembly or “preaching” (undefined) without prior authorisation. Again the Algerian state is giving itself the power to regulate who leads, speaks and teaches in non-Muslim religions.
Article 15 allows the authorities to impose heavy fines and dissolve any religious group that infringes these regulations. This is on top of the fines and imprisonment that individual Christians may incur.