Palestinians mark Ramadan 58 AP.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Police in Algeria have detained ten men for allegedly eating in public
in violation of the sanctity of Ramadan.
Police picked up the young men in a restaurant in the province of
Bejaya, east of the capital Algiers after neighbors complained of the alleged
public desecration of the Islamic faith’s ban on eating during daylight in the
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The young men face up to two years in prison for the “crime” if
convicted. Police reportedly held one man in jail and all face trial. Charges
were presented against the group on Monday in a court in the town of Akbou. The
court delayed its verdict until early November.
While seemingly an isolated incident, it reflected a growing trend by
governments to cater to devout public sentiment in the Muslim world. However,
human rights’ groups have decried the move, saying the men had not committee
any crime and that observing the daylight fast during Ramadan was a “personal
"There is no law in Algeria prohibiting eating on Ramadan, only one
banning 'mocking Ramadan'," said Moustafa Bouchachi, President of the
Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights. "The prosecutor has
implemented the law improperly, and therefore the last man still arrested in
the case was released yesterday."
Bouchachi told The Media Line that two years ago Algerian police had
arrested four young men on similar charges. They were subsequently released. He
added that people are sometimes arrested for eating in public places, but
rarely for doing so in a closed restaurant.
"We believe that this lawsuit is unfounded," Bouchachi said.
"The Algerian constitution prescribes freedom of religion, so we think
this is an affront to people's basic right, which we condemn."
Bouchachi added that the arrests made Algeria look bad; presenting it as
a country that does not respect human rights.
Mouloud Benkadoum, a lawyer representing the owner of the restaurant,
said his client had not violated any laws.
"The police entered an establishment where the curtain was
closed," he told the French language daily Al-Watan. "My
client didn't serve anyone food. He was cleaning his restaurant and the cooking
equipment in preparation for opening in the evening."
Bankadoum claimed that his client was unjustly discriminated against.
"The large hotels serve alcohol and meals in broad daylight during
Ramadan," he told reporters.
Sallah A-Din Belabes, executive editor of Al-Watan, said the
arrests were an attempt by the Algerian government to show it safeguarded Islam
in the public sphere.
"The arrests were a local initiative, but with a public goal,"
Belabes told The Media Line. "This was an exaggeration by the
Belabes said that ironically the region of Kabylie where the arrests
were carried out was generally less religious than other parts of Algeria.
"I don't understand why the government focused on this region when
there are other parts of the country where the fast is not observed,"
Belabes added. "This is an attempt to cause a false problem in this
Fadi Al-Qadi, an Amman-based consultant for Human Rights Watch, said
that the vague language of Ramadan laws in many Arab countries allowed
governments to infringe on human rights.
"[The laws] could be interpreted by authorities as applying to
anything they disagree with: religious speech, political speech, even throwing
a party during Ramadan," he told The Media Line.
"In countries like Jordan, Egypt and Gulf states I could be
arrested for smoking a cigarette in my office during Ramadan," Al-Qadi
said. "It's really ridiculous."
Al-Qadi added that certain Arab countries were more lax about public
violations of Ramadan. In Syria and Lebanon government involvement in religious
matters was reduced since the regimes were more secular and the countries
include influential non-Muslim populations.