The End Blasphemy Laws Collation is deeply concerned by the trial of Algerian activist Walid Kechida and urges the Algerian authorities to repeal its blasphemy laws.
On 3 January 2021, Walid Kechida, a young Algerian political activist was sentenced to a prison sentence of three years in prison in connection with posts shared on a Facebook group he had created.
Kechida is a supporter of the Hirak protest movement in Algeria, which grew to prominence in the country in 2019 and sought democratic reform. Kechida created a Facebook group called “Hirak Memes”, which published critical and satirical Memes, a way of commenting Algerian news in a humorous tone.
Kechida was arrested on 27 April 2020 and has remained behind bars ever since, during which time his father has died. The Algerian judiciary believes Kechida’s online activism constitutes a “violation of the Constitution”, an intolerable “insult to the President of the Republic” and even an “attack on the divine entity”, crimes under Articles 144/1, 144/2 of the Algerian Penal Code (in French).
Fouad Djoudi Betka, Kechida’s lawyer informed Humanists International, the coordinating force behind the End Blasphemy Laws Coalition, that:
“Walid Kechida is a political prisoner. He was a member of the popular movement since its commencement [2019–2020 Hirak protests] and he has been arrested due to his activism and criticism of the political situation in Algeria.”
On 24 January 2021, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the Court of Appeal in Sétif (Eastern Algeria) to demand Kechida’s release, while in the courtroom, Mr Djoudi Betka pleaded his innocence. The prosecution advocated “upholding the sentence of the court of first instance of three years in prison with a fine”. The verdict was set for 31 January 2021.
Kechida’s legal team believe that the charges of insulting the divine self “The blasphemy charge is a mere pretext to legitimize Walid’s imprisonment”.
The End Blasphemy Laws Collation will continue to follow Kechida’s trial with great concern.
Speaking on behalf of the End Blasphemy Laws Coalition Coordinator, Emma Wadsworth-Jones said:
“Evidence shows us that blasphemy laws are often used as a pretext to silence public intellectuals and political dissidents, preventing them from peacefully expressing their opinions, beliefs or constructive criticism. Such laws have no place in modern society. It is clear that Walid Kechida was merely making use of his right to freedom of opinion by expressing his criticism and aspirations in a peaceful manner, and in the context of the popular and peaceful protests that Algeria has been witnessing in recent years. We urge the Algerian authorities to overturn Walid Kechida’s conviction for blasphemy and repeal its existing blasphemy laws.”
The EBL Coalition believes that Walid Kechida is being targeted for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of opinion, expression, religion or belief and calls for his conviction on charges of blasphemy to be overturned. The Coalition also calls on the Algerian authorities to repeal its blasphemy laws.