Fresh trials raise concern about persecution of Ahmadis in Algeria

Algeria is said to be further clamping down on the religious freedoms of its Ahmadiyya minority, with new trials to take place this month, according to Muhammad Fali, president of the Ahmadiyya community, in a statement to Human Rights Watch.

The clampdown on the religious freedoms of its Ahmadi minority, which as a population, amounts to around 2,000 people, can result in criminal justice outcomes – be it suspended sentences or otherwise.

In 2016 alone, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported that the Algerian authorities had initiated judicial proceedings against 266 to 280 Ahmadi men and women.

Despite Ahmadis self-identifying as Muslim, they risk a prison term of three to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 Algerian dinars (US$908), if they are found guilty of denigrating tenets of the Islamic faith (article 144 of the penal code). Other laws used against the Ahmadi minority includes article 46 of the Association Law, which relates to participation in an unauthorised association. The distribution of documents from a foreign source which may ‘endanger’ national security is punishable by a three-year prison sentence (96-2 of the penal code).

The wave of arrests may have come in response to efforts from the Ahmadi community to register a charitable organisation in March 2016. It took the Interior Ministry just two months to reject the application.

Few had heard of the Ahmadi community before the government crackdown. Its tiny minority had practised largely in secret for a decade or so, according to an AFP investigation.

The movement only grew after an Ahmadi satellite channel began to broadcast in 2007.

Fearful of attacks from religious extremists, many in the Ahmadi minority worship in the homes of other Ahmadis.

A month later, in June 2016, Algerian police raided a newly-built Ahmadi mosque in Larbaa in the Bilda region, closing the institution. Or, in some reports, destroying the building.

Muhammad Fali received a six-month suspended prison sentence last year for offending the Prophet and Islam, and for unauthorised fundraising, according to his solicitor. He faces other charges in other parts of Algeria. Before the verdict in September, Fali had spent three months in Chlef prison.

Ahmadis have disclosed to Human Rights Watch that authorities confiscated texts relating to their Ahmadiyya beliefs. Other personal items taken during searches are said to include identity cards and passports.

The Judicial Council of Batna, one of the largest cities in Algeria, convicted six Ahmadis for collecting donations without a licence, distributing foreign literature threatening national interest, and administrating an unregistered association last year. The prison sentences ranged between to two and four years, with heavy fines. A majority had their books confiscated. One Ahmadi male had his laptop confiscated following his conviction.

Mohamed Aissa, Algeria’s Religious Affairs Minister, has made several disparaging remarks about Ahmadis, stating they are not Muslim, and suggesting that the community is part of a wider Israeli conspiracy to destabilise the country. Aissa is no fan of Algeria’s Shia minority either.

The clampdown on religious minorities in Algeria also extends to Christians – Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for example, was jailed for three years for posting blasphemous content on social media in 2016.

Under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Algeria must ensure the right to freedom of religion.

A Faith Matters report has documented the sectarianism against Ahmadis in the UK, Pakistan, and Indonesia.