As declared in the constitution, Algeria is a Sunni Islamic State. The Constitution bans non-Muslims from holding high-level government positions. Non-religious groups meet in secret to avoid state persecution and social approbation. Those who “renounce” Islam may be imprisoned, fined, or co-erced to re-convert. Algeria is a member of the UN Human Rights Council since 2014, yet most human rights experts and international NGOs are still denied access to the country. Algeria is a member of the League of Arab States (LAS), as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

The current constitution was last modified in 2008. Islam is the state religion (Article 2), enjoying significant legal privileges. The constitution provides for the inviolable right to creed and opinion (Article 36), but freedom of religion or belief is not mentioned.

Ordinance 06-03 does prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion specifically (but not thought or belief more broadly) and guarantees state protection for non-Muslims, in theory. However, these provisions are significantly weakened by a variety of other legal instruments and societal practices, in practice.

State institutions are prohibited from engaging in activity incompatible with Islamic morality. Non-Muslims are prohibited from standing for the presidency, but may hold other public office.

Mosques receive state funding and imams are trained by the state. Non-Muslim religious groups receive limited state funds in some instances.

Registration of non-religious groups is via the Ministry of Interior, and the government enjoys broad discretion in granting it. Law No. 12-06 forbids associations from receiving any foreign funding or cooperating with or seeking membership in foreign organizations without the government’s approval. Further, activities that are contrary to the country’s “values or public morals” are forbidden.

One political party advocating a secular state in Algeria is currently registered and active. A handful of humanist, atheist and secularist groups have online profiles, but there is no evidence that any have registered officially or could do so in practice. Advocates of secularism in Algeria describe the government as a “theocratic regime”, and talk of having to hide their non-religious views to avoid being shunned by their families and communities.

Education and children’s rights

Although the educational reform of 2006 eliminated “Islamic sciences” from the baccalaureate, Islamic studies are mandatory in public schools at primary level and followed by Sharia studies at secondary level. Concerns have been expressed that requests by non-Muslim religious students to opt out of these classes would result in discrimination.

Family, community and society

Family law is religious controlled, drawing on Islamic law after the Maliki school, as well as some customary law and French law. As in most Muslim-majority countries, any reforms to family and personal status laws are generally very slowly introduced and hard-fought. Article 1 of the civil code stipulates that in the absence of any clear legal disposition, the judge must refer to the principles of Islamic law. It is mainly in the family code that such legal disposition is missing. The resulting legal pluralism mostly disfavours women and restricts individual freedoms.

The Algerian family code shares many aspects with the Moroccan code and is generally more conservative in character compared to the Tunisian code. Contrary to other countries, as for instance Egypt, there is no separate law for non-Muslims and the family code applies to all Algerians regardless of personal religion or belief.

Family law discrimination against “apostates” and women

Prior to the 2005 amendments, family law stated that if it is established that either spouse is an “apostate” from Islam, the marriage will be declared null and void (Article 32). The term “apostate” was removed with the amendments, however those determined as such still cannot receive any inheritance (Article 138).

Under the family code, Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men (Article 30), while Muslim men may not marry women of non-monotheistic religious groups. Women have the right to inherit only half of what men are entitled to (Articles 142 and 144). Children born by a Muslim father are considered Muslim. Furthermore, it is prohibited to give a child a non-Muslim name.

In addition, the family code treats women as minors under the legal guardianship of a husband or male relative (“wali”) and authorizes polygamy, but only polygyny (men marrying multiple wives) not polyandry (women marrying multiple husbands) (Article 8). Men can also divorce for any reason, while women must generally cite one or more of ten specific reasons for divorce. A divorce for another reason is only possible with the option of “khula”, the traditional Islamic principle that permits a  woman to divorce if she pays the husband a sum of money.

Domestic abuse is not specifically prohibited by law. The penal code has criminalized sexual harassment since 2004 (Article 341). Further, Islamic principles influence the punishments for rape in the penal code. A man can avoid punishment by marrying the victim, spousal rape is not outlawed, and discriminatory provisions exist for the witnessing testimony of women. In criminal cases the testimony of two women is considered to be equal to that of one male witness.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The “blasphemy” law is stringent and widely enforced. The non-religious are largely invisible in the public sphere, and although not specifically targeted through legislation, significant prejudice towards non-Muslim religions can be presumed to apply equally if not more so to non-believers.

“Blasphemy” is prohibited through several legal instruments. The penal code prohibits insults against Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, and this is reinforced in media legislation.

The crime of “blasphemy” carries a maximum of five years in prison and the laws are interpreted widely. For example, several arrests have been made under the blasphemy laws in the last few years for failure to fast during Ramadan, even though this is not a requirement under Algerian law. Non-fasting persons (“non-jeûneurs”) repeatedly face harassment by the police and civil society.
<slateafrique.com/91533/algerie-ramadan-la-chasse-aux-non-jeuneurs-va-t-elle-recommencer> (2012)
<lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2013/08/04/en-algerie-un-dejeuner-provocateur-en-plein-ramadan_3457278_3212.html#> (2013)
<fdesouche.com/488871-ramadan-bejaia-algerie-des-non-jeuneurs-lynches-par-la-foule#> (2014)
<algeriefranceinfos.blogspot.ch/2015/06/france-ramadan-des-non-jeuneurs.html> (2015)
<algerie-focus.com/blog/2015/06/affaire-presumee-de-non-jeuneurs-a-oran-la-dgsn-dement-et-livre-sa-version/> (2015)

Public protests for freedom of conscience and the right to abstain from fasting (including many secular Amazigh movements) have triggered a public debate in which some leaders of the Islamist movement have demanded the death penalty for the failure to fast during Ramadan.

Beside Ramadan, alcohol consumption, which is prohibited by religious law, has been put under increased controls and has lead to forced closure of several bars since 2012.

Since 2006, proselytizing by non-Muslims has been illegal and carries a fine of up to EUR 10,000 and a maximum of five years in prison and non-Muslim missionary groups are only allowed to conduct humanitarian activities. Distribution of materials which may “shake the faith” of a Muslim or “undermine the Islamic faith” is also prohibited.

Apostasy is not expressly penalized, but draws consequences partially in the family law.

Highlighted cases

In 2015, the celebrated Algerian poet, author and playwright Rachid Boudjedra (b. 1941) discussed his atheism on national television during an invited interview. Though he had previously ‘come out’ in 2006, and was well-known for condemning political Islamism, the 2015 TV interview sparked a media storm in response to his ‘outspoken’ declaration. There was some condemnation on social media, though some bloggers defended him. Boudjedra holds a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne and is a multiply award-winning novelist.

In the interview on Mahkama, Boudjedra presented a humanized picture of Muhammad, saying he was not a divine Prophet, but a “revolutionary man”. Inverting the popular refrain of devout Muslims, Bou Jadra said that he in fact preferred his mother to Allah. And, “On behalf of my mother, I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth. I do not believe in God nor in the Muslim religion, I do not believe in Muhammad as a prophet. If had to choose a religion, it would be Buddhism, for his pacifism.” He also said that many Algerians had actually embraced atheism, but remain reluctant to say so publicly.

The Ulema authorities announced that a public declaration about his “Ilhad” (atheism or deviation) was a serious matter: “Boudjedra should be deprived of the privileges accorded to Muslims at their death. […Thus excommunicated] it would be unlawful, upon his passing, to give him the ritual washing; no sermon should be given at his funeral, and in no way may he be buried in an Islamic cemetery.” The Ulema also called for is repentance saying he would be welcomed back.
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<academia.edu/12889633/The_Rise_and_Spread_of_Ilhad_Atheism_in_the_Arab_World>

Testimonies

“I personally live in Kabylia [mostly Amazigh region, east of Algier], the people here are more open-minded than in other regions of Algeria. I talk about my atheism with my friends and relatives sometimes. I do not run the streets shouting about my atheism, but with my family it’s going pretty well. People are sometimes surprised, sometimes they want to debate, but it’s still in a respectful frame (without insults etc.). But for other regions of Algeria it is much more difficult, I know people who claim to be pious Muslims to avoid violence and lynching…”

— Lamine