Last Updated 23 February 2023

As declared in the constitution, Algeria is a Sunni Islamic State. Non-religious groups meet in secret to avoid state persecution and social approbation. 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 by a referendum in 2020.1 The government had promised to reform the constitution in response to a large-scale pro-democracy protest movement which broke out in 2019 (known as the Hirak movement).2 However, the reforms were largely superficial, and the government continues to rely on existing legislation to silence critics and dissenters, and impose severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, expression and association.3

Controversially, the right to freedom of conscience, which was present in every constitution since Algeria gained its independence in 1962, appears to have been removed from the latest constitution. Article 51 of the new constitution protects “freedom of opinion,”4 (French version); (Arabic version); Note that there is a discrepancy with the English version of the constitution, which does appear to preserve the right to ‘freedom of conscience’ in Article 51: while the article that it replaced (Article 42) stated that both “freedom of conscience and freedom of opinion shall be inviolable.”5;

Under the new constitution, Islam is the state religion (Article 2), enjoying significant legal privileges. The constitution also stipulates that any president of the republic of Algeria must be Muslim (Article 91).

Ordinance 06-03 on “the Conditions and Rules of Practice of Faiths other than Islam” (2006) prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion specifically (but not thought or belief more broadly) and guarantees the free practice of religions other than Islam, with the limitation that such practice remains in accordance with “the constitution, national morality and public and national safety “(Article 2). Ideas or faiths deemed contrary to those principles are not legally protected by this Ordinance.6

Under Article 10 of the constitution, state institutions are prohibited from engaging in activity “incompatible with Islamic morality.”

Article 217 of the Constitution establishes a High Islamic Council “under the auspices of the President,” to provide the official interpretation of Islamic principles and to act as an advisory body to the Head of State. The president appoints the members of the Council and oversees their work. The Council can also issue fatwas.

Mosques receive state funding and imams are trained by the state.7

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, the government can refuse to register an association whose purpose or goals are deemed “contrary to basic national values and to law and order, public morality and the provisions of existing laws and regulations” (Article 39).8 As reported by several NGOs, this vague criteria has been used to block the registration of a range of NGOs, including pro-democracy and women’s rights groups, many of whom are forced to operate outside of the law. Anyone found working for a “non-accredited, suspended or dissolved” NGO risks a prison sentence of up to six months (Article 46).9;;;

Political parties advocating a secular state in Algeria are currently registered and active but have been targeted by authorities.10, The secular opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), established in 1989, received a formal notice on 6 January 2022 from the minister of interior, requesting it to cease activities deemed “contrary to regulations.” According to news articles this was because it hosted a meeting for an alliance of opposition parties, Forces of the Democratic Alternative, which was formed during the 2019 uprising to advocate for democratic change and an independent judiciary.11

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.12 Article 2 of the Law on the Orientation of Education (2008) stipulates that the Algerian education system, through Islamic education, should aim to instill young generations with fundamental Islamic values, including tolerance and respect for one’s parents and the institution of the family.13 Private schools must use curricula that are in line with national standards, particularly regarding the teaching of Islam.14 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 draws on Islamic principles based in the Maliki school,15; as well as some customary law and French law. Any reforms to family and personal status laws are generally very slowly introduced and hard-fought.16 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.17 It is mainly in the family code that such legal disposition is missing. The resulting legal pluralism mostly disfavours women and restricts individual freedoms.

There is no separate law for non-Muslims and the Family Code applies to all citizens and residents of Algeria, regardless of personal religion or belief (Article 221).18

Family law discrimination against “apostates” and women

The Family Code 1984 (Modified By Ordinance No. 05-02 Of 27 February 2005)19 contains a number of provisions that reflect deeply conservative values and entrench discrimination against women.20,grounds%20for%20divorce%20for%20women It denies women equal status and considers them, for their entire lives, equivalent to minors under the legal guardianship either of a husband or male relative (“wali”).21 For this reason, many Algerian feminists refer to the Family Code ironically as the “Code de l’Infamie.”22,est%20une%20mineure%20%C3%A0%20vie

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.

The Family Code authorizes polygamy for men (Article 8). Men can also divorce for any reason, while women must generally cite one or more of ten specific reasons for divorce (Article 53). 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.23

Domestic abuse is not explicitly prohibited by law. The Penal Code24 has criminalized sexual harassment since 2004 (Article 341). Further, Islamic principles influence the punishments for rape. A man can avoid punishment by marrying the victim, spousal rape is not recognized (Articles 326), and discriminatory provisions exist for the witnessing testimony of women.

Prior to the 2005 amendments, the 1984 Family Code stated that if it is established that either spouse is an “apostate” from Islam, the marriage will be declared null and void (Article 32).25 Whilst the term “apostate” was removed from Article 32 with the 2005 amendments, those determined as such still cannot receive any inheritance (Article 138).26

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Article 144 bis 2 of the Penal Code criminalizes blasphemy. Any individual who “offends the Prophet […] and the messengers of God or disparages the dogma or precepts of Islam, whether it be through writing, artwork, speaking, or any other medium” may be subject to three to-five years in prison and/or a fine of between 50,000 and 100,000 Algerian dinars.27

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.

In recent years, the Algerian government has brought blasphemy charges against several individuals. On 21 April 2021, Algerian scholar and freethinker Said Djabelkhir was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars for “offending Islam” under Article 144 bis 2 of the Algerian Penal Code.28 On 3 January 2021, Walid Kechida, a young Algerian political activist was sentenced to three years in prison for insulting President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and “offending the precepts” of Islam in internet memes.29; Political activist and government opposition figure Amira Bouraoui has been prosecuted in three different cases since June 2020 for ‘offence to the precepts of Islam’ and ‘offence to the President’ based on online publications.30;

The “blasphemy” law is also 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;;;;

There have been reports of individuals being fined for not fasting during the Ramadan period.32 In 2018, Algeria said at the UN that there were no legal sanctions against individuals who did not observe fasting in Ramadan.33 In 2020, the former head of the Algerian Renewal Party, Noureddine Boukrouh, said he had faced “criticisms, insults, and death threats” after calling for a suspension of Ramadan fasting in a Facebook post.34

While apostasy is not expressly criminalized, a maximum sentence of five years and a fine of up to EUR 10,000 may be applied to anyone who “incites, constrains or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion” or anyone who “shakes the faith” of a Muslim through the distribution of printed documents, audiovisual productions or any other means.35

As reported by Civicus and several other NGOs, a host of other laws, including anti-terrorism legislation, laws against the dissemination of ‘false information’, and laws on combating hate speech and discrimination,36 are used by Algerian authorities to restrict civil society space and to persecute human rights and pro-democracy activists.

Highlighted cases

Said Djabelkhir

Said Djabelkhir is a leading Algerian academic on Sufism, cultural editor of many Algerian newspapers, and the founder of Cercle des Lumières pour la Pensée Libre (Circle of Enlightenment for Free Thought), an association for thinkers and academics who are advocating a progressive Islam. In February 2021, he was summoned to court after a fellow academic filed a complaint that his writings constituted “an attack and mockery of the authentic hadiths of the Sunna [the custom and practice] of the Prophet,” and had caused individuals psychological harm. The complaint related to a series of Facebook posts in which Djabelkheir drew comparisons between Eid al-Adha and the Berber New Year celebrations; referred to some stories in the Quran as ‘myths’; and said that he considers some hadiths ‘apocryphal’.

On 22 April 2021, Djabelkhir was convicted of “offending the precepts of Islam” under Article 144 bis 2 of the Penal Code and sentenced to 3 years in prison, as well as a fine of 50,000 Dinars (approx. US$375). On 1 February 2023, the Court of Algiers quashed Djabelkhir’s conviction.37

Rachid Boudjedra (poet, author, playwright)

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’ as non-religious 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 multiple 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, Boujedra 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 I 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.38

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 his repentance saying he would be welcomed;

In 2017 Boujedra was the subject of an Algerian television show skit where fake police officers made him shout “Allahu Akbar” and recite the Shahada. The 75-year old writer is then shown trying to leave the studio but is blocked by producers and staff. The incident provoked a number of protests on social media and a petition created to denounce the actions of the television station.40

Rachid Fodil and “H. S.” (social media activists)

On 9 June 2016, the Algerian National Gendarmerie arrested two social media activists, Rachid Fodil, 27 and his friend H. S., 28 in the Algerian Province of M’sila. They were accused of propagating blasphemous materials and insulting Islam and the Quran on social media. The two were set to stand trial on 22 June 2016 in Sidi Aissa but the court session was postponed until an undetermined date.

Upon arresting Fodil and H.S., the police confiscated computers and mobile phones that, according to news reports, contained the “incriminating” material. Family have reported that during the initial phase of his arrest, Fodil had been severely mistreated and beaten by the police. Rachid was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in 2016 for Facebook posts deemed insulting to Islam, but was released in 2017 as part of a general amnesty for prisoners who obtained a diploma.41


“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


4 (French version); (Arabic version); Note that there is a discrepancy with the English version of the constitution, which does appear to preserve the right to ‘freedom of conscience’ in Article 51:
6, 35
7, 14
16, 23
24, 27
28, 37

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