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An Algerian court last month sentenced 44 people in the country on various charges related to their attendance at an event that police allege was a gay wedding.
On July 24, police in el-Kharoub, a district in Constantine Province in northeastern Algeria, raided a private residence and arrested nine women and 35 men — most of whom were university students — following complaints from neighbors, according to Human Rights Watch.
A lawyer involved in the case told Human Rights Watch that police reports described decorations, flowers, and sweets indicative of a wedding celebration, as well as the two principal men’s supposedly “gay” appearance, as evidence of the students’ guilt.
In Algeria, same-sex activity is punishable by up to three years in prison, and same-sex marriages are outlawed.
“Public indecency” carries a sentence of six months to three years in prison and a fine if it involves “acts against nature with a member of the same sex,” regardless of the gender of those involved.
The court convicted all 44 of “same-sex relations,” public indecency, and “subjecting others to harm by breaking COVID-19-related quarantine measures.”
The two principals in the alleged “wedding” were sentenced to three years in prison, plus fines, and the 42 others were sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence.
Human rights advocates argue that the arrests of the attendees contradict the right to privacy under international human rights law, and under a provision in Algeria’s constitution that protects a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of their home, communication, and correspondence. They have also called on Algerian officials to void the charges and release the two men who are currently in prison.
“Algerian authorities’ attack on personal freedoms is nothing new, but arresting dozens of students based on their perceived sexual orientation is a flagrant infringement on their basic rights,” Rasha Younes, an LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “They should immediately release from prison the two men who would be free today were it not for Algeria’s regressive anti-homosexuality laws.”
Arrests for “moral offenses” that involve consensual adult activities in private settings violate international human rights law, as the right to privacy, freedom from discrimination, and bodily autonomy are supposed to be protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty to which Algeria is a state party.
Yet despite having signed onto the treaty, and having joined African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Algerian authorities frequently target LGBTQ citizens for punishment, and there are no explicit legal protections for people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
While Algerian authorities have imposed a ban on all social gatherings due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch has argued that breaking quarantine or violating social distancing measures does not justify arbitrary arrests or prolonged pre-trial detention.
“While people in Algeria continue to demand their basic rights to protest, the authorities are dedicating their time and resources to crack down on students and stockpile discriminatory charges against them,” Younes said. “Instead of policing its citizens’ private lives, the Algerian government should carry out reforms, including decriminalizing same-sex conduct.”
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