In the western Algerian city of Tiaret, a 37-year-old convert to Christianity is currently on trial for "practicing a non-Muslim religion without authorization," under a 2006 law regulating the religious practice of non-Muslims. The charges were brought against her after police found copies of the Bible in her possession.
In a May 27, 2008 article in the Algerian El-Watan daily, Algerian dissident and journalist Arezki Ait Larbi called the case a "witchcraft trial" and described a tightening alliance between the government and Islamists in the country. He argued that the only way out of the impasse was the formation of a popular movement that would confront intolerance and reaffirm respect for liberty of religion and conscience.
Arezki Ait Larbi, currently a correspondent for the French daily Le Figaro, is a well-known civil rights activist who has been imprisoned several times since he first became active in public affairs, during the "Berber Spring" of 1980. He was recently acquitted of charges of defamation brought against him for an article he wrote documenting torture in Algerian prisons.
The following are excerpts from the article:
The Crime – Christianity; The Evidence – Bibles
"The recurring violations of liberties [in Algeria] have lately reached an intolerable level. The most recent of these is the witchcraft trial that took place on the stage of the courthouse in Tiaret. The victim, a 37-year-old woman, is in danger of being sentenced to three years' imprisonment for the crime of Christianity.
"That was the punishment demanded on May 20, [2008,] by the prosecutor representing the Republic (sic), who accused her of 'practicing a non-Muslim religion without authorization.'
"The trial of Habiba [Kouider] has revealed humiliating persecutions for crimes of religion, based solely on official arbitrariness sanctified by holy incense.
"At the Olympic Games of bad faith, the Minister of Religious Affairs would win the gold medal. To foreigners, he lauds a discourse of openness, swearing that 'freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution.' He just forgets to add: 'so long as it is not exercised!'
"For national [public] opinion, he dusts off the good old conspiracy theory. With their pens standing at attention, the national-Islamist press reports here and there on [a phenomenon of] American evangalical attack squadrons moving through mountain villages and converting wayward youth with dollars and visas – thus laying the groundwork for intervention by [American] GIs!
"In truth, the reality is more mundane. In Tiaret, they arrested a frail young woman with formidable incriminating evidence in her possession: Bibles.
"Were it not for the perversion that has transformed republican institutions into an armed wing of the Inquisition, this colorful police arrest would make one smile.
"At court, the trial turned into farce, revealing once more the underbelly of a subservient justice at the beck and call of the fantasies of the seraglio [i.e. the government]. A judge's role is to speak the law – but here the judge metamorphosed into a director of the conscience, lancing fatwas of indignation and preaching to reconversion [to Islam].
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"To prevent journalists from witnessing this ignominy, the judge decided, at the prosecutor's request, to confiscate their notebooks. Such was the pathetic reaction by of provincial notables who saw that their bungling was threatening to wash their promising careers down the drain."
"These Times Demand… Mobilization… for Fundamental Liberties in Place of Fascist Tendencies"
"In this climate of ideological surrender, which has consecrated the triumph of obscurantism in the name of an impure reconciliation [with the Islamists], even the 'enlightened elites' ended up abdicating their duty of vigilance to repeatedly genuflect before the new rules of the game.
"When it comes to forcefully reaffirming the liberty of conscience, the exegetes of the cafes invoke 'Islam's tolerance for the People of the Book' so as to accord the practitioners of 'non-Muslim religions' some back-row seats as second-class citizens. Approaching the grotesque, they present Habiba [Kouider], whom they have never met, as a geostrategic menace, a Mata Hari of the aspergillum who draws her salary from the slush funds of the CIA and the Mossad and whose spiritual practice is mere camouflage for [the campaign] to weaken the Muslim peoples…
"In the name of the state of emergency, which covers much depravity, institutions are placed under lock and key, protests are banned, opposition parties crushed, independent journalists muzzled, independent union activists beaten, and spirituality made conditional on [procurement of] a license.
"This putting of society into lockstep is pregnant with dangers. It has already given birth to full-scale rioting as the ultimate mode of expression, the tragedy of the clandestine emigrants who end up in prison whenever they escape death, and even worse, inter-community clashes…
"These times demand an independent and determined mobilization to institute fundamental liberties in place of fascist tendencies, pluralism of convictions instead of uniformity of thought, and respect for our differences instead of paralyzing uniformity."
"Let Us Remind [All], Loud and Clear, that Algerian Christians Are First and Foremost Citizens"
"Rather than confront hypothetical foreign menaces, let us remind [all], loud and clear, that Algerian Christians are first and foremost citizens. And in a republic, all citizens are subject to the same laws, whether they be Muslims of the Maliki school, Ibadis, Shi'ites, agnostics, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, or atheists. They all have the same right to respect for their convictions and free practice of their religion, as long as they do not impose it on others by force.
"The 'Christianophobia' that has reduced the new converts to living their faith clandestinely is naught but a diversionary [tactic] by false devotees and true scoundrels, in an attempt to obscure the conjunction of official authoritarianism and a renewed, bloodthirsty fundamentalism. First consummated behind the scenes in the seraglio, this holy alliance is now public and in the light of day."
The PM Carried Out "A Coup d'État on a Prayer Rug"
"In front of all the national-Islamist who's-who gathered last Thursday at Martyrs' Square in Algiers, the prime minister, in the uniform of the great caliph, decreed that the Koran 'represents the Constitution of Algerian society.' [This constituted] a coup d'état [carried out] on a prayer rug, [yet] it provoked no indignation.
"In the private sphere, all beliefs are respectable. When instrumentalized for political ends, all religions are potentially fatal to liberty, and can lead to terrible tragedies and rivers of blood.
"In response to the current persecutions [in Algeria] come the noisy protests of the extreme right on the other side of the Mediterranean, who demand – with some degree of logic, it must be said – the application of a principle of reciprocity. [They say:] The Algerians banned the Bible? Let's ban the Koran. They close churches? Let's destroy mosques. They expel priests? Let's send Dalil Boubekeur, the rector of the Paris Mosque, back whence he came. Contrary to appearances, the swastikas and the swastika-crescents unite in the end in one same fight: for intolerance, exclusion, and hatred."
A Sign of Hope
"A sign of hope: The 'Appeal for Tolerance and Respect for Liberties,' published last March by a group of Algerian intellectuals, has garnered more than 2,500 signatures. Overcoming their differences, they denounced the violation of democratic liberties and reaffirmed the right of all to practice the religion of their choice, or not to practice any.
"In so doing, they proclaimed their fierce desire to live together in mutual respect. Dozens of [public] figures – North African, French, and European – supported this initiative.
"While we await other forms of struggle, more determined but still pacific, all eyes are on the court in Tiaret, where the fate of a young woman guilty of having prayed without the authorization of the guardians of the temple hangs in the balance.
"Whatever the verdict, Habiba [Kouider] is already a symbol of courage and liberty."
 El-Watan (Algeria), May 27, 2008.
 For more on Algeria's National Reconciliation Policy see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 392, "Surge of Terrorism in Algeria Intensifies Debate over Government's National Reconciliation Policy," September 25, 2007, Surge of Terrorism in Algeria Intensifies Debate Over Government's National Reconciliation Policy.