Six-month suspended terms for Algerian Christians: church


ALGIERS: July 5, 2008. (AFP) Two Algerian Christian converts accused of trying to sway Muslims away from their religion were given reduced six-month suspended sentences Thursday, a Protestant leader said.

The pair, originally jailed in absentia for two years and fined around 5,000 euros (7,850 dollars) each, were ordered to pay around 1,000 euros after the court in remote Tissemsilt heard the case again in their presence, as Algerian law allows. Protestant Church leader Mustapha Krim said the two were being tried for distributing literature offensive to the Muslim faith. Algeria has seen an upsurge of such cases since a controversial law was passed in February 2006 requiring non-Muslim congregations to seek permits from regional authorities. On June 3, four Christians were given suspended sentences for "illegally practicing a non-Muslim cult." One of the four received a six-month suspended sentence with a 2,000-euro fine. The other three got two months suspended and a 1,000-euro fine each. In a separate case, another Christian convert, 37-year-old Habiba Kouider, is to appear before a court a second time, after he was caught carrying a stack of bibles. His first appearance, also on a charge of practicing a non-Muslim religion without permission, saw the court in Tiaret demand a further investigation. The prosecution has demanded a three-year sentence. As many as 25 places of worship used by Christians have also been closed down. It is not clear how many centers applied for the required permits following the law change. The Protestant Church in Algeria has called for the 2006 law to be overturned, an appeal rejected by Communications Minister Abderrachid Boukerzaza. The heads of the various Christian denominations in Algeria believe the law contravenes the freedom of religion guaranteed in the country's constitution. Algeria had up to one million Christians before its independence from France in 1962, but today counts just 11,000, according to the ministry for religious affairs. Most of these are Catholic, although the Protestant Church claims around 50,000 adherents.

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