Protest Picnic Defends Ramadan Rights of Algerian Christians
About 200 people ate together at a public lunch in the town of Tizi Ouzou on Saturday to protest against the "persecution of non-fasters and creeping Islamisation" in the Kabylie region in northern Algeria. Local law enforcement agencies looked on but did not act as sandwiches and soft drinks were shared during a picnic held just a short stroll from law enforcement headquarters.
"This is Kabylie, and here we do what we want. We have to respect our culture, our traditions, our individual and religious freedoms. It doesn't matter if they're Jewish, Christian or Muslim," one protester told the BBC.
In Algeria, where Islam is the state religion, breaking the Ramadan fast in public is punishable by fine and imprisonment. In 2010, two Algerian Christians were taken to court for publicly breaking the fast, although they were later acquitted. Algerian Christians also faced persecution when government officials repurposed Protestant churches after the country gained independence.
In connection to the picnic, protesters told World Watch Monitor the event was organized as a response to the alleged intimidation of non-fasters on July 19 by police in Tigzirt, 35 km north of Tizi Ouzou.
A number of local Islamic associations expressed their indignation and called on the state to punish those involved. Meanwhile, the Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs Abu Abdellah Ghoulamallah said the picnics were "provocative and ridiculous."
But the state news agency APS reported that the protesters were "not attacking Islam" but asking for "freedom of worship and conscience [which is] guaranteed by the Algerian law."
However, APS's claim that the non-fasters included "followers of the evangelistic church who drank beer" was contested and considered by some an attempt to discredit the protesters.
One picnicker, who wished to remain nameless, told World Watch Monitor: "From the first moment to the last, I did not once witness the presence of any evangelist who drinks beer."
"The values of tolerance and peaceful co-existence of people of all opinions and faiths that has existed in Kabylie since the dawn of time is being trampled upon," read a translated petition circulated by picnickers. "The Algerian government is intruding into private life and persecuting non-fasters."