It is difficult to know for certain whether letters to our politicians and government officials will have an effect. Do you expect that a letter to your city or town Councillor be read and taken seriously? How about your Member of Provincial Parliament? Federal MP? Every bureaucratic layer, every mile from home can seem to shrink the probabilities.
What about writing a letter to dignitaries from foreign countries? Do you think you would be heard? But if the subject were important enough to you, would you still do it?
We imagine that these are some of the questions that ran through Dr. Richard Thain’s mind some weeks ago as he composed and sent a letter (an abridged version provided below) to members of the Algerian government. In his letter, Thain called for the release of Yacine Mebarki, a vocal member that country’s Berber minority who has been involved in the long-running Hirak protest movement. Mebarki had been imprisoned for “profaning Islam” (blasphemy, by a slightly different turn of phrase), encouraging a Muslim to leave the religion as well as several other charges.
Dear Ambassador Meghar,
My name is Richard Thain. As a Canadian citizen, I have the power and the freedom to publicly communicate my perspectives, whether on political, religious or other public matters. I decide who I wish to engage in civil and civic dialog.
On those grounds, I intend to respectfully express my deep concern over the Algerian Court’s decision to find Yacine Mebarki guilty and sentence him to ten years of imprisonment. This decision is the latest of an extremely disturbing pattern in Algeria which is being covered in the international news media. The jailing of journalist Khaled Drareni provides another outrageous example. The world has learned, from Algeria’s National Committee for the Release of Detainees that over five dozen people have been incarcerated in your country, for merely holding unpopular opinions. Journalism is not a crime.
I respectfully direct your attention to the press release, issued on Thursday, September 8, by the Algerian League for the Defence of the Human Rights which “underlines the guarantees in the national law, notably the Constitution and the international conventions ratified by Algeria, in particular the respect for freedom of conscience and opinion.”
I urge you to inform President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Prime-Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and Minister of Justice Belkacem Zeghmati that many Canadians are appalled by events in Algeria. I urge you to advise the Government of Algeria to immediately release Yacine Mebarki and all prisoners of conscience in Algeria!
Ambassador, there is no-one better positioned or informed than you to recognize that it is of the utmost importance and in the best interests of the Government of Algeria and the Citizens of Algeria that these unconscionable matters be corrected. Help your government to bring the Citizens of Algeria and the Citizens of Canada together by ensuring shared individual freedoms, rights and powers. It is within your power to decide to act or not to act in the interests of Algerians.
Thank you for your time and prompt attention to this critical matter.
Dr Richard G L Thain
You may read a version of Thain’s letter on EAP (en francais). It is our understanding that Thain has not yet received a reply to his letter. But that doesn’t mean that the Algerian government and courts have ignore Mebarki’s case.
We may also imagine the tremendous satisfaction and enthusiasm that Dr. Thain may have felt to read today, as reported on France24, that Algeria’s ” court reduced Mebarki’s prison term from 10 years to one after upholding convictions including “offending the precepts of (Islam)”, but overturning others with heavier sentences including “profaning the Koran”.
Whether Dr. Thain’s letter reached eyes of influential officials in Algeria or not should not reduce any satisfaction Dr. Thain may feel either for his correspondence or for the news for Mebarki. When it comes to the freedom of expression, it is not merely holding the value that is important, it is utilizing that freedom to express one’s opinion even in situations where one has every reason to expect not to be heard.
Dr. Thain encountered his own concerns with freedom of expression, government officials and religious privilege in 2014 when he attempted to publish advertisements objecting to the public funding of Catholic Schools systems in Canada during the launch of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
While it may be difficult to know whether our dignified and civilized protestations will be heard, that does not diminish our need to make them.
You may also be interested in Wole Soyinka’s open letter calling for the release of Mubarak Bala.
Citations, References And Other Reading
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The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.