One of the converts is Rachid Muhammad Essaghir, whose last name has also been spelled as Seghir. Convicted of blasphemy and evangelism in two separate cases this year, he was to go on trial again for evangelism in Tissemsilt, 350 kilometers (220 miles) southwest of Algiers.
The court postponed the trial to June 25th because the defendants’ main lawyer was unable to attend the hearing for personal reasons, said church leader Mustapha Krim in remarks published by the French News Agency AFP. Officers reportedly stopped Essaghir and another Christian in the vicinity of Tissemsilt in June 2007 and discovered a box of Chris tian books in their car.
The two men said they were transporting the literature from one church to another, but prosecutors accused them of "distributing documents to shake the faith of Muslims." This month Essaghir already received a six-month suspended sentence and a 200,000-dinar (US$3,282) fine on similar charges.
Christians Chabane Beikel, Abdelhak Rebeih and Djillali Saibi were each given two-month suspended sentences and 100,000-dinar (US$1,640) fines, trial observers said. Two other men, Mohamed Khene and Abdelkader Hori, were reportedly acquitted. Speaking to journalists outside the court before the hearing, Seghir defended his actions. "We are Christians and we are not ashamed to say it," he said at the time.
The trials are part of ongoing persecution against Christian converts in the mostly Muslim country since a controversial law was passed in February 2006 demanding non-Muslim congregations seek permits from regional authorities. Under the controversial legislation Algerians can also be fined up to 1 million dinars ($16,405) and sentenced to five years in prison for printing, storing or distributing materials intended to convert Muslims away from Islam.
In a separate case, another Christian convert, Habiba Kouider, was to appear before a court a second time, after she was discovered carrying a dozen bibles. Her first court appearance, again on a charge of practising a non-Muslim religion without permission, saw the court in Tiaret reportedly demand a further investigation. The prosecution has demanded a three-year sentence.
The cases have provoked accusations in the West of religious repression in the largely Muslim country of 33 million people, where experts say Christians comprise at least some 10,000 people.
Most of its Christian colonial settler population fled shortly after independence from France in 1962. The Protestant church in Algeria has called for the 2006 law to be overturned, an appeal rejected by Communication Minister Abderrachid Boukerzaza.
The heads of the various Christian denominations in Algeria have said that the country’s religious legislation contravenes the freedom of religion guaranteed in the constitution. (With reporting from Algiers and BosNewsLife Research).