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Algeria: Drop all charges against members of a religious minority

**UPDATE** The trial of the 18 members of the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light was postponed to 13 September.

Algerian authorities should immediately drop all charges against 18 members of the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light minority group and release three of them who have been detained since June, Amnesty International said today, ahead of their trial on 6 September for “participating in an unauthorized group” and “denigrating Islam”.

“It is a travesty of justice that these individuals are being detained or prosecuted over their religious beliefs,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “They should be allowed to peacefully practice their religion without risking intimidation or reprisals from the authorities.”

Three members of the religion continue to be held in detention despite their lawyers appealing for their release on three separate occasions. The court rejected the lawyers’ requests on the grounds that the investigation is ongoing.

It is a travesty of justice that these individuals are being detained or prosecuted over their religious beliefs.

Amna Guellali, Amnesty International

In an interview with Amnesty International before his arrest and detention, Redouane Foufa, the group’s coordinator in Bejaia, said that around 30 soldiers had previously searched the house he shares with other members of the group, and seized ID cards, passports, phones and laptops.

Yasmine Guissi, Redouane Foufa’s niece, told Amnesty International: “In the beginning, the families were hopeful. We were thinking they would be released, but it kept dragging on and now it is really hard. Their kids keep asking, ‘where is baba?’ The kids are not allowed to go to visit them, and anyway the family can only visit once every two weeks.”


Souhila Benkaddour, the wife of Cherif Mohamed Ali, another detained member of the group, discovered she was pregnant after her husband was detained, yet was unable to tell him the news. Cherif found out two weeks later from his lawyer.

She told Amnesty International: “When I found out that I was pregnant, after four years of waiting, I kept the images of our baby in my womb from the first scan to show to my husband when he got out of prison.…  Today I am living another joy while he is absent – I found out the gender of our newborn boy. God willing, my husband will be present with me during the birth.”

Background

The 18 members of the Ahmadi group face trial at the first instance court in Bejaia on 6 September, having been charged under Article 46 of the Law on Associations and Article 144 bis 2 of the Algerian Penal Code.

The Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light was established in 1993. The religious group, which has around 70 active members in Algeria, follows the teachings of Imam Mahdi and venerates Imam Ahmed al-Hassan as its divine guide. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Algeria has ratified, governments must ensure the right to freedom of religion, thought, and conscience of everyone under their jurisdiction, and in particular to religious minorities. This right includes the freedom to exercise the religion or belief of one’s choice publicly or privately, alone or with others.

However, in 2006, Algeria passed Decree 06-03 which introduced restrictions on the exercise of religions other than Islam. Between 2017 and 2022, Algerian authorities used both this Decree and the Penal Code to prosecute hundreds of non-Sunni believers and to close several Protestant churches.

Algeria’s new Constitution, adopted in November 2020, dropped freedom of religion and belief from the Rights and freedoms chapter, and only upheld “freedom to practice religion” while stating that it “must be exercised in respect of the law.”