Christianity Banned in Algeria

Tue Mar. 21, 2006 8:39 PM EST

Another Islamic county is taking aim at curbing religious freedom; this time, it's Algeria. The Algerian parliament, in reaction to a recent "Christianizing campaign," passed a law that bans the practice of any religion other than Islam in the country. The penalty—two to five years in prison and a hefty monetary fine—applies not only to practicing Christians, but any person, manufacturer, or store that circulates "publications or audo-visual or other means aiming at destabilizing attachment to Islam." According to the Arabic News, the Christian community constitutes the largest religious minority in the country.

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The law is a reminder of Algeria's recent—and bloody—history. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Algeria endured fifteen years of civil war during which extremists attacked anyone who was even remotely secular or moderate. Islamic terrorists, fighting against the government, claimed religious justifications for the mass killings and human rights violations that went on during that time. And the new law undermines recent progress on human rights: In the past few years, Human Rights Watch had reported some progress in Algeria along human-rights fronts, stating in 2003 that "state-sponsored disappearances have virtually stopped," and in 2004 Algeria adopted an amendment to its penal code criminalizing torture.

Banning religious freedom is a major setback in any context, but in Algeria it comes at a particularly tumultuous time. Earlier this month Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika granted a blanket amnesty to more or less everyone involved in the civil war that led to the death of approximately 200,000 Algerians. In a joint
statement
, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Center for Transitional Justice, and the International Federation for Human Rights called the mass amnesty "a major setback".

"Rather than moving to prevent future abuses by ending this de facto impunity, Algerian authorities have now decreed a broad amnesty for past abuses," the organizations said. "Perhaps most ominously, the new legislation seeks to end not only prosecutions for crimes of the past, but even public debate about them." Indeed, Article 46 states:

Anyone who, by speech, writing, or any other act, uses or exploits the wounds of the National Tragedy to harm the institutions of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, to weaken the state, or to undermine the good reputation of its agents who honorably served it, or to tarnish the image of Algeria internationally, shall be punished by three to five years in prison and a fine of 250,000 to 500,000 dinars.

The provision basically forbids questioning Algeria's past in any way. That means journalists don't have freedom of press, protestors are sent to prison, and the rest of the population is simply censored. Freedom is flailing, and as of today Algerians can add their freedom of religion to the list of weakening rights.

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