By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ALGIERS, ALGERIA (BosNewsLfe)– Algerian Christians are anxiously awaiting the appeal trial of Christian Siagh Krimo, who was sentenced to five years imprisonment for giving a compact disk about Christianity to his neighbor, trial observers say.
Krimo, who was sentenced in the northwestern city of Oran earlier this year, appealed the verdict and was to reappear Thursday, September 29, when the judge will decide if his sentence for “blasphemy” can be upheld.
“To many Algerian Christians, Krimo’s verdict will determine how strong a stance the government is willing to take to defend the future religious rights of Christians,” said Aiden Clay, Middle East Regional Manager of religious rights group International Christian Concern (ICC).
It comes at a time when authorities are under pressure to change religious legislation about “blasphemy”against Islam and allow churches to worship more openly.
ICC said that for the first time in 20 years, the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) was given government permission to officially register its over two dozen congregations throughout the country, apparently amid international concern.
The government’s decision came three months after the governor and police commissioner in the province of Béjaia ordered seven EPA churches to close for “exercising religious worship other than Islam without authorization,” Clay explained.
Similar orders had been issued in the past. On April 23, 2011, an EPA church in Makouda, near Tizi Ouzou, was reportedly given 48 hours to shut its doors.
Missionaries have also been expelled.
Despite the provincial authorities’ order, churches continued to hold services. “We worship out of conviction,” a member of an EPA church in Béjaia told the Algerian media. “We are not afraid, because we did nothing wrong.”
The outcome of Krimo’s trial will show whether authorities share this view or whether Christians can still be prosecuted under controversial legislation that criminalizes acts that “insult the prophet and any of the messengers of God, or denigrate the creed and precepts of Islam.”
In 2006, Algeria passed the new religious legislation which says that anyone “trying to call on a Muslim to embrace another religion,” could be sentenced to prison for two to five years and receive a fine of up to USD 12,000.
Commentators say the law was in response to Christian evangelists and missionary workers who have preached in several parts of the country. There may be as many as 30,000 devoted Protestant Christians in Algeria, a country of 33 million people, according to church estimates
Non-Muslim worship and freedom of religion are officially protected by Algeria’s constitution, yet Muslim government officials and other leaders regularly denounce Protestantism as anti-Islam. (Follow the BosNewsLife News feed via Twitter).