By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ALGIERS, ALGERIA (BosNewsLife)– Two Algerian Christians are to appear in court on charges of “proselytizing”, or attempted conversion, and “blasphemy” that could carry a five year prison sentence, a Christian rights group said Monday, April 25.
International Christian Concern (ICC) said the two men “were arrested and briefly imprisoned” April 14 in the Mediterranean city of Oran, some 354 kilometers (220 miles) from the capital Algiers, “after sharing their Christian faith with their neighbors.”
One of the men, Sofiane, was released a day after their detention, while Krimo was jailed for three days, ICC added. The U.S.-based advocacy group, which has contacts in the region, only identified them by their first names, apparently amid security concerns.
It said Algerian police also searched Krimo’s home for Bibles and other Christian material. Krimo was known to hold weekly prayer services at his home, which Algerian Christians suspect were being closely monitored by police.
A court hearing, initially scheduled for April 27, was postponed to a later date, ICC said.
Algerian officials were not immediately available for comment.
Local Christians reportedly fear that authorities will enforce a law introduced in 2006, requiring religious services to obtain a government permit to worship. They say alleged violations may result in five year imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars ($1,390.00).
Church leaders have also expressed frustration over the alleged slow procedure to register a church or to approve a permit quickly. “The Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) engaged a lawyer to defend Krimo and Sofiane. We are hopeful that they will be acquitted,” ICC quoted an unidentified a pastor in the town of Tizi Ouzou as saying.
“Although our constitution says to respect other faiths other than Islam, the government is Islamic, and article two says ‘Islam is the religion of State.’ There is no respect for human rights or religious freedom and the protestant church is suffering,” the pastor added.
The latest tensions come despite Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika reported pledge to reform the constitution to allow press freedom and free elections.
Authorities said the current constitution was applied in 1996 to strengthen emergency laws and ban religious-based parties following a war between the military and Islamic militants.
However, ICC and other rights activists say the Algerian government has been unable to contain Islamic extremists who have been largely blamed for attacks against the North African nation’s tiny Christian community.