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Algerian writer under threat of arrest on blasphemy charges

This statement was originally published on pen-international.org on 23 March 2017.

PEN International is deeply worried about the writer and human rights defender Anouar Rahmani (أنور رحماني), who is currently the subject of a criminal investigation for allegedly insulting Islam following the publication of his latest novel Jibril's Hallucination (هلوسة جبريل). While he waits to hear whether the public prosecutor will indict him, Anouar Rahmani is a free man; however he may face up to 5 years in prison if prosecuted.

Algerian blasphemy laws violate rights to freedom of expression, conscience, and religion. PEN International calls for the criminal investigation into Anouar Rahmani to be abandoned.

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Background

Anouar Rahmani, 25 years old, is a law student and author of two novels, Jibril's Hallucination (هلوسة جبريل), which deals with religion, and White Shadows (الظلال البيضاء), which notably depicts a gay relationship during the Algerian war of independence. Through his writings, Rahmani explores human rights issues in Algeria, including those of Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transexual and Intersex (LGBTI) people and those of religious minorities. He regularly defends the rights of marginalised and minorities on his blog 'Diary of an unusual Algerian' يوميات جزائري فوق العادة. Rahmani has indicated to PEN International that he often receives threats and insults for his writings.

On 27 February 2017 Rahmani reports that he received a summons and the next day attended a police station in the province of Tipaza. Police officers interrogated him about his writings for hours, focussing particularly on certain chapters of his novel Jibril's Hallucination, his religious views, his political opinions, and those regarding Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

After six hours of continuous interrogation, the officer in charge informed Rahmani that he was the subject of an investigation under article 144 (bis 2) of the Penal Code, which stipulates a 3 to 5 year prison sentence and a fine of between 50,000 and 100,000 Algerian Dinar (roughly $900USD) for anyone that “offends the prophet” or “denigrates the dogma and precepts of Islam”. Police officers also told him that his case had been sent to the public prosecutor. At present, Rahmani has not yet heard from the authorities, who – at any given moment – could decide to indict him.

On 14 March 2017, Rahmani had to wait for more than six hours at Algiers' Houari Boumediene airport before being allowed to travel to a conference in Lebanon under the pretext that he had not carried out his military service, despite the fact that he is exempt as he is still a student.

According to article 42 of the Algerian Constitution, “freedom of conscience and opinion are guaranteed” while article 44 protects the freedom “of artistic creation.”

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