While the Algerian Constitution has various articles that explicitly guarantee freedom of speech and creed (e.g., articles, 36, 38, and 41), the Algerian penal code explicitly criminalizes blasphemy in Article 144-2, which stipulates that "whomever denigrates the Prophet and other Messengers or the creed or prophets of Islam through writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means, will receive three to five years in prison, and/or be subject to a fine of between 50,000 and 100,000 Algerian dinars." Apostates are forcibly disinherited and, in some cases, divorced from their spouses and deprived of child custody. The constitution declares Sunni Islam as the official religion.
Algeria's Islamization began in the eighth century, when the Umayyad Caliphate conquered and took control of the region. In the succeeding centuries, the prominence and prevalence of Islam grew as political control shifted between various dynasties. Come the sixteenth century, much of the modern state of Algeria would come under the control of the Ottoman Empire, termed the Regency of Algiers. The degree of the Ottomans' authority over the region oscillated, but by the time of French colonization in the early nineteenth century, this history left Algeria with a distinctly Islamic legacy.
Development of Blasphemy Laws
Algeria would become an important colony for the French, but discontent with French rule among the citizenry created persistent tension. Islam became an especially important marker of cultural identity for many Algerians, particularly as a contrast and symbol of resistance to French impositions. Nationalist elements striving for independence from Western rule eventually waged the Algerian War of 1954 to 1962, which ended in France's withdrawal from the country and Algerian independence.
Post-independence Algeria has been marked by persistent political instability, with numerous changes to the country's foundational law. The first constitution, adopted in 1963, declared Islam the religion of the state while also granting religious freedom to citizens. The preamble to this constitution also states that "Islam and the Arab language have been the effective forces of resistance against the attempt by the colonial regime to depersonalize the Algerians."
While many governments of varying sympathy to Islamism have cycled through Algeria in the last several decades, this line confirms the role of Islam as a marker of Algerian cultural identity against Western colonization at the time of independence. This legacy is carried through to its modern laws: Islam is still the state religion, and the current penal code, enacted in 1971, singles out blasphemy against Islam as an imprisonable offense.
There are signs that in recent years, Algeria has been moving further away from religious freedom. For example, proselytizing on the part of non-Muslims was outlawed in 2006. Additionally, the invocation and enforcement of the blasphemy law, which covers insults to the Qur'an, the prophets, and the religion itself, is seemingly more common in Algeria than in some neighboring nations, with several documented instances in recent years.