By Agence France Presse (AFP)
ALGIERS: A court in northeast Algeria acquitted nine Muslims who were charged with breaking the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan in August, rights activists said after the trial Monday.
The prosecutor had urged the court at Akbou in the Kabylie region to jail the men for between two and five years, for “breaching the precepts of Islam,” which is the state religion in the North African country.
“They have been released,” an official of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Said Salhi, told AFP.
Algerian police arrested the nine at the end of August at Ighzer Amokrane, 10 kilometers from Akbou, while they were drinking coffee together in a closed store, according to one of their lawyers.
Outside the courtroom, a large demonstration was organized by human rights groups, political movements and residents of the region, witnesses said.
“We’re very satisfied. This is a very good ruling, it is a right,” lawyer Abderrezak Ammar-Khodja said.
“If it had not been for this turnout, they would have been convicted.”
Salhi also spoke of a “victory” won by “the mobilization of the population in support of the lawyers. Justice has been done.”
Several trials have taken place since Ramadan for breaching the precepts of Islam, but a group of lawyers united to form a defense team arguing a case for “freedom of conscience and opinion” under the Algerian constitution.
In mid-October a youth, Fares Bouchouata, was jailed for two years and fined $1,400 for having breached the fast at Oum al-Bouagui, 500 kilometers southeast of Algiers.
However, the prosecutor said the young man had also been sentenced for smashing a police station window by banging his head against it, according to the Al-Watan Week-end newspaper.
Two Christians who broke the fast at Ain al-Hamman in eastern Algeria were acquitted on October 5. The judge in the Kabylie courtroom ruled that there was no case to try because “no article [of law] provides for prosecution” in the event of a breach of Ramadan. – AFP