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Algeria: Severe New Penalties For \'Proselytising\'

March 28, 2006
Date: Friday 24 March 2006
Subj: Algeria: severe new penalties for \'proselytising\'
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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ALGERIA: SEVERE NEW PENALTIES FOR \'PROSELYTISING\'
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A presidential order that establishes new conditions for the
exercise of non-Muslim religious practice was passed in the Algerian
Ummah council (Senate) on Monday 13 March, and in the Algerian
National Assembly (Parliament) on 15 March. As a presidential order,
the text would not have even been open to debate.

An article entitled "New sanctions concerning the illegal exercise
of religious worship – Evangelicals under high surveillance", was
published on 14 March in the French language Algerian newspaper
\'Actualite\'. (Link 1)

In this article, writer Hamid Saidani laments, "The form chosen for
the promulgation of this law closes the door to any debate on this
subject which is extremely sensitive because it touches on a
principle established by the fundamental law of the land, which is
the freedom of worship and of conscience. The content of this
legislative framework would certainly have been greatly benefited if
the discussion had been allowed."

Saidani reports that the order, classified as No 06-03 and dated 28
February 2006, puts forward a number of arguments which call for the
strengthening of the law regarding religious activities that could
be considered as "missions of proselytising". According to Saidani
the penal aspects of the text are, between a 2 and 5 year prison
term and a fine of 50 to 100 million centimes (this amounts to
approx. US$7,000 to US$14,000 (1 Algerian dinar = 100 centimes)) for
anyone who "incites, constrains or uses seductive means seeking to
convert a Muslim to another religion (...), or who produces, stores
or distributes printed documents or audio-visual formats or any
other format or means which seeks to shake the faith of a Muslim."

Saidani concludes: "It is certain that this legislation seeks to
block proselytizing missions and missionaries led notably by
American evangelical churches in certain regions of the country,
however it remains vital that the texts be clear and explicit, and
this so that the way will not be opened for the violation of
individual and collective liberties established by the laws of the
Republic which would be swallowed up by a revival of the demons of
inquisition."

Arabic News reports that the new law "is an attempt to withstand the
Christianizing campaign which had witnessed a notable activity
recently especially in al-Qabayel area east of the country."(Link 2)

Arabic News also adds, "The law also bans practicing any religion
\'except Islam\' \'outside buildings allocated for that, and links
specialized buildings aimed at practice of religion by a prior
licensing.\'

"One official at the ministry of religious affairs said that the aim
of the law is basically to \'ban religious activity, and secret
religious campaigns.\'

"The Christian community constitutes the largest religious minority
in the country. This community accounts for the time being to less
than 11,000 after it was hundreds of thousands before Algeria\'s
independence in 1962 including 110 priests and 170 monks distributed
all over Algerian lands."

President Bouteflika\'s aggressive move against "missions of
proselytising" is very surprising considering that as recently as
December 2005 Algeria\'s Minister of Religious Affairs, Bouabdellah
Ghamallah, told Al-Khabar newspaper that reports of increasing
proselytisation of Algeria\'s Muslims were groundless. (Link 3)

AMNESTY COMES INTO EFFECT: ISLAMISTS RELEASED

In September 2005 Algerians voted overwhelmingly, through a
referendum, to grant amnesty to Islamist fighters imprisoned during
Algeria\'s civil conflict, in exchange for peace. The amnesty, part
of President Bouteflika\'s Charter for Peace and National
Reconciliation, was approved by the government in February 2006, and
the first wave of the 2,629 prisoners began to be released on 4
March. According to Cherif Quazani, some 10,000 condemned Islamists
will eventually be released. Quazani writes (12 March) that it is
inevitable that such a release of 10,000 prisoners who are
"Islamists by nature" is cause for some apprehension. Quazani
comments that no one can be sure that any of these Islamists have
repented. He believes they view their release as a victory, adding
that they left prison shouting "Allahou Akbar". (Link 4)

Critics fear that President Bouteflika\'s Charter for Peace and
National Reconciliation seeks to whitewash years of suffering and
that releasing Islamic extremists and allowing them home from exile
could plant the seeds for future violence. As noted in a WEA RL
Prayer bulletin of Sept 2005, genuine long-lasting peace will
require a comprehensive restorative justice program as distinct from
punitive or retributive justice. This would require the government
follow up the amnesty with a truth commission that involves
jihadists and security forces, and a comprehensive national
reconciliation program. Without these any peace will only be
temporary as the sores will simply fester.

But of course the issue is even bigger even than this. In December
1991 Algeria\'s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) surged towards power
heading for an absolute majority through democratic elections only
to be stopped in its tracks by the military. The second round of
voting was canceled and when the FIS was declared illegal January
1992 its partisans fled en masse to the mountains. The most radical
element then began its activities as the GIA (Groupes armes
islamiques, Armed Islamic Groups) and the more moderate element
acted under the name MAI (Mouvement arme islamique, Armed Islamic
Movement). What followed was a decade of civil conflict and
horrific Islamic terrorism costing more than 150,000 lives.

However, Algeria\'s imprisoned Islamists would no doubt have been
watching democracy in action in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon and the
Palestinian Territories and feeling quite encouraged. Regional
politics has changed a lot since 1991.

It is one thing to surrender weapons and renounce violence, but
quite another to surrender aims and renounce ideology. With
democracy proving so effective at empowering and legitimising
Islamists, even militant Islamists, maybe renouncing violence is not
such a compromise. It may after all only prove to be a change of
strategy, not a change of direction – Islamists simply need ride a
different vehicle to power.

GRASSROOTS: ISLAMISTS MOVING TO CONTROL MOSQUES

Hassan Moali wrote an article (20 February) entitled, "Islamist
parties want to take hold of the mosques – The aggressions against
Imams multiply", in which he alleges that Islamists are intimidating
the imams not associated with their cause, infiltrating the
religious associations of the mosques, and issuing threats by
anonymous letters and even physical aggressions. (Link 5)

Hassan Moali claims that 20 percent of Algeria\'s 15,000 mosques are
subject to threats and aggression from what he calls "the apostles
of \'la religion partisane\'". According to Moali, Islamists murdered
at least ten imams in 2005, and that some were killed in their
mosques in front of their congregations. Moali also asserts that
courageous imams who refuse to preach the Islamist message are made
the objects of devastating smear campaigns.

Moali notes that on average fourteen million Algerians would attend
Friday prayer. And knowing the important role of the imam, it is
easy to imagine what an appetite Islamist parties would have to
control such a powerful reserve of political militant potential.

Hassan Moali names The Movement of Society for Peace (MSP: formerly
Hamas) as being in the forefront of this conspiracy, adding that MSP
president Bouguerra Soltani recently affirmed that his party aims to
seize power in 2012.

"POLITICAL REHABILITATION"

President Bouteflika\'s Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation
provides for the "banning of all exercise of political activity,
whatever form it may take, by those responsible for the exploitation
of our religion." This provision basically bans political activity
by those who have committed terrorist acts. (Link 6)

Regardless of this, some very senior militant Islamists are seeking
"political rehabilitation". Ali Benhadj, deputy leader of the FIS is
one (Link 7), and Abdelhak Layada, one of the founding leaders of
Algeria\'s Islamic Armed Group (GIA), is another. (Link 8)

The GIA has sought not only to create an Islamist state but to rid
Algeria of Jews and Christians. According to the Terrorism Knowledge
Database
http://www.tkb.org/ ten percent of all GIA attacks have
been directed at religious targets. On 23 October 1994 GIA shot dead
two Spanish nuns leaving a chapel in Algiers. In December 1994 GIA
militants killed four Catholic priests of the Order of White
Fathers, in a machine-gun attack at their mission in Tizi-Ouzou. GIA
then faxed news organisations claiming that the killings were part
of their campaign of "annihilation and physical liquidation of
Christian crusaders".

On 3 September 1995 GIA killed two more nuns in Algiers. Then on 10
November 1995 GIA shot two French nuns (one fatally) of the Little
Sisters Sacred Heart as they left their home in the Kouba district
of Algiers. In May 1996 GIA claimed responsibility for the kidnap,
murder and beheading of seven French Trappist monks from a monastery
in Medea. On 1 August 1996 a GIA bomb exploded in the home of the
French bishop in Oran, killing him and his driver. The Bishop had
just returned from a ceremony commemorating the deaths of the seven
monks a year earlier.

Abdelhak Layada was released from his prison cell on Monday 13
March. He commented on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika\'s Charter to
Asharq Alawsat newspaper saying, "It is a significant positive step
towards achieving peace but it is incomplete because it closes the
door of political participation in front of us." Layada indicated he
would consider returning to politics in the future. He expressed his
belief that the GIA and the FIS are the key to resolving Algeria\'s
conflict.

In the meantime, Layada has said he will co-operate with the
government to achieve peace. He is offering to mediate between the
government and the militants still at large. A questions opens up
before us though, particularly in the light of the government\'s
about face concerning "missions of proselytism", and the new
measures against them. To what extent has the amnesty been a quid
pro quo deal – is the government going to have to co-operate with
Islamist? Or maybe there has not been any quid pro quo deal –
perhaps President Bouteflika knowing the nature of the Islamists he
is releasing is just removing a \'provocation\'. Whatever the reason
for these new measures, the Church in Algeria is about to face a
whole new level of persecution.

Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) Les nouvelles sanctions concernant l\'exercice illegal du culte:
Les evangelistes sous haute surveillance. By Hamid Saidani, Liberte
14 March 2006
The text is no longer available at:
http://www.liberte-algerie.com/
but it can be found at:
http://www.africatime.com/algerie/nouvelle.asp?no_nouvelle=244719&no_categorie=2

for a very rough English translation just put the article title,
"Les evangelistes sous haute surveillance" into a Google search.
(Kabyle.com has the best translation) Do likewise with other French
articles amongst these links.

2) Algeria bans Muslims from learning about Christianity
Algeria, Politics, 3/21/2006
http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/060321/2006032108.html

3) Algeria Downplays Proselytization Reports
CAIRO, December 25, 2005 (IslamOnline.net)
http://www.islamonline.org/English/News/2005-12/25/article06.shtml

4) Qui a peur des amnisties ? ALGÉRIE
12 mars 2006 - par CHERIF OUAZANI
http://www.jeuneafrique.com/jeune_afrique/article_jeune_afrique.asp?art_cle=LIN12036quiapsitsin0


5) Algerie: les partis islamistes veulent s\'emparer des mosquees
Les agressions contre les Imams se multiplient
lundi 20 fevrier 2006
http://www.afrik.com/article9488.html

6) Bouteflika unveils new reconciliation plan. 15 August 2005
http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/algeria/?id=14284

7) Algerie: les islamistes liberes vont-ils etre politiquement
rehabilites?
Ali Benhadj, ex numero deux du Fis, le voudrait bien
jeudi 16 mars 2006, par notre partenaire El Watan
http://www.afrik.com/article9608.html

8) Former Algerian militant leader will cooperate with government to
achieve peace. By Boulame Ghamrassha 16 March 2006
http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=1&id=4156

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