State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Algeria
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Publication Date||6 July 2011|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Algeria, 6 July 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e16d37f21.html [accessed 28 January 2015]|
According to MRG, about a quarter of the Algerian population self-identifies as Berber. The year 2010 was the 30th anniversary of the 'Berber Spring' in 1980, when students took to the streets to demonstrate against the repression of Berber culture and to demand language rights. Algerian state forces crushed the peaceful protests. Since then, sometimes violent demonstrations have continued to mark relations between Berber communities and the state, and, despite some concessions, the issues are ongoing. For instance, while the Constitution holds that Islam is the state religion and Arabic the official language, the state declared the Berber language Tamazigh a 'national language' in 2002 and has permitted it to be taught in schools. But a 2010 report from a German NGO, the Society for Threatened Peoples (GFvB) said that, despite this, there is still no actual teaching of written or spoken Berber languages in Algerian schools.
In January 2010, Berber activists in Kabylie commemorated the 1980 uprising by repeating demands for autonomy for Berber people. According to the 2010 report on freedom of association by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN – a network of more than 80 human rights organizations across the region) in 2010 a march was planned in the small city of Aïn Benin to 'demand respect for human rights and commemorate the "Berber Spring"', but was met with force. The report states that although permission to hold the event was formally requested, a response was never given. Police were deployed on the day of the march and around 30 people were arrested. They were held for several hours, questioned and made to sign statements before being released.
The Christian and Jewish minorities in Algeria each make up 1 per cent of the total population. Sunni Islam is the official religion of the state, and non-Muslim religions are subject to restrictions that affect their ability to meet in public to worship. Non-Muslim groups are required to register with the government, and the state also controls the importing of religious texts. Proselytizing has historically been dealt with particularly harshly.
Relations between Christian and Muslim communities were difficult in 2010. The US State Department Report on International Religious Freedom 2010 (IRFR 2010) reported that in January, protesters disrupted a Protestant service being held on the first-floor of an apartment building in Kabylie. A week later, they 'vandalized the building and burned Bibles, hymnbooks, a cross, furniture, and appliances'. The attack took place amid local fears that the Protestant group was trying to convert Muslim children, and concerns that men and women are permitted to worship together in the house, according to the pastor.
In August, two Christian men were arrested for eating and drinking while at work on a building site during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. They were charged and detained under a law that bans Algerian citizens from 'causing offence to the Prophet ... or denigrating the dogma of Islam'. The trial of the two attracted dozens of protesters, media reports said, with the public prosecutor calling for a three-year jail sentence. However, the two were acquitted in October. In December, Agence France Presse reported that four Christian converts were facing one-year jail sentences for opening a church without state permission. The outcome of the trial is not yet known.
Jews in Algeria continue to suffer discrimination. In June, the government refused requests from Algerian Jewish associations based in France to visit holy sites in Algeria. Elsewhere, though, the state has made some overtures to religious groups. In February, a symposium entitled 'Religious Worship: A Right Ensured by Religion and by the Law' was held in Algiers by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. According to the IRFR 2010, representatives from Christian and Jewish religious groups in the country and Catholic and Protestant religious leaders from the United States and France were invited, but members of the Jewish community did not participate.
Women, including non-Muslim women, suffer discrimination in Algeria in matters of personal status. As with many of the countries in the region, the Algerian family code draws on Sharia law, and as such Muslim women are prevented from marrying non-Muslim men unless they convert to Islam (although this is not always enforced). Meanwhile, children born to Muslim fathers and non-Muslim mothers are considered Muslim, whatever the mother's religion. Non-Muslim minorities also suffer discrimination in inheritance laws when a Muslim family member lays claims to the inheritance, the IRFR 2010 noted. In this case, widowed non-Muslims whose husbands were Muslim are left particularly vulnerable.