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In Algeria, freedom of conscience on the dock

Accused in particular of “Profanation” of the Koran and“Offense against Islam”, Algerian activist Yacine Mebarki was sentenced to ten years in prison in October. While the verdict of his appeal is expected this Wednesday, November 25, his supporters castigate a political trial.

“I am a secular Muslim”, defended Yacine Mebarki, 52, during his trial at first instance on October 8 in Khenchela (northeast). Facing the judge, he argued to fight against religious radicalism and not to denigrate Islam. Engaged locally in the popular protest movement of Hirak, the Berber activist was found guilty of“Offense against the precepts of Islam”.

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To which are added the accusations of “Profanation of the sacred book”, of“Incitement to discrimination”, of“Incitement to convert a Muslim to another religion” and of “Distribution of documents aimed at shaking the faith of a Muslim”, without forgetting the “Unauthorized possession of war material”.

This penalty of “Ten years in prison and a ten million dinar fine (some 65,000 euros) is the heaviest pronounced so far against a Hirak activist, according to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), an association supporting prisoners of conscience.

“Destroy all mobilization”

“Nothing in Yacine’s writings, neither his career, nor his words justify this heavy condemnation”, pleaded on Facebook the professor of economics and activist Abderezak Adel. He denounced a “Inquisitorial verdict” against the Berber activist, who campaigns for the full recognition of Amazigh (Berber) culture and identity in North Africa.

“Stop ideological prohibitions”, “Stop repression”, “No to selective justice”, posted about twenty activists who came to demand the release of Mr. Mebarki, in front of the town hall of Khenchela on October 15.

For Oussama Azizi, friend of Mr. Mebarki, the very severe sentence he received “Is intended to arouse fear and destroy any mobilization at the local level”. “The hardest part is sticking this atheism label on him. In a conservative region like Khenchela, it sounds like a double condemnation, on the side of justice and society ”, he told AFP.

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Another Hirak supporter, Walid Kechida, 25, in detention since April 27 in Sétif (north-east), is also being prosecuted for “Offense against the precepts of Islam”, in addition to two other charges. He is notably accused of having published memes – comic or satirical viral images – on social networks relating to religion, explained to AFP his lawyer, Mr.e Moumen Chadi.

In June, feminist activist Amira Bouraoui was convicted of six counts, including “Offense against Islam”, and sentenced to one year in prison. She has been on bail since July and her appeal trial is scheduled for December 17.

Freedom of conscience ?

The law punishes three to five years imprisonment and / or a fine “Anyone who offends the Prophet or denigrates the dogma or precepts of Islam, whether by writing, drawing, declaration or any other means”. Profanation “Voluntary and public” of the Sacred Book is punishable by five to ten years in prison.

Authorities “Want to gain credibility with force and repression. You talk, you go to jail, you think, you go to jail! “, indignant Osama Azizi.

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Nearly 90 people are currently imprisoned in Algeria for acts related to the protest and / or to individual freedoms. Charges often based on Facebook posts, according to the CNLD.

“Mr. Mebarki’s conviction is extremely serious. It shows to what extent the judicial authorities are repressing the activists ”, reacted Amna Guellali, head of Amnesty International for the Middle East and North Africa.

The new Constitution, approved in a referendum largely ignored by the population on 1er November, no longer mentions freedom of conscience as in the previous version. For meme Guellali, this deletion “Establishes the limits of freedom of conscience which already exist in Algerian law”.

The World with AFP

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