A human rights agency has learned that an Algerian Christian was sentenced to five years imprisonment for blasphemy in Oran on Wednesday after sharing his Christian faith with a neighbor. The verdict came days after authorities forced the permanent closure of seven Protestant churches in Algeria’s Béjaia province.
According to a news release from International Christian Concern (ICC), Siagh Krimo was charged by the Criminal Court of the Djamel District in Oran. The decision was based on Article 144 bis 2 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes acts that “insult the prophet and any of the messengers of God, or denigrate the creed and precepts of Islam, whether by writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means.”
ICC said Krimo has ten days to appeal the sentence.
ICC said Krimo, who is married with a nine month old child, was arrested on April 14, along with another Christian, Sofiane, after sharing his Christian faith with a neighbor.
Sofiane was released soon after the arrest, while Krimo was detained for three days. Krimo was known to hold weekly prayer services at his home, which Algerian Christians suspect were being closely monitored by the police.
ICC said the prosecutor at Krimo’s trial, held on May 4, failed to present as a witness the neighbor who accused Krimo of proselytizing and making defamatory statements against the Muslim prophet Mohammad.
Algerian Christians were hopeful that Krimo would be acquitted of all charges. “Good news, the judge, after having invited Krimo to use wisdom and return to Islam, has ended the affair,” an Algerian church leader in Tizi Ouzou told ICC on May 4. “We hope this will end well.”
The prosecutor, doubtful he would win the case on so little evidence, reportedly asked the judge to have Krimo’s sentence reduced to a two year imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinar.
However, ICC said, some believe that higher authorities in the Algerian government were involved in reaching the final decision. “The judge would have normally acquitted Krimo of all charges, but I think he received an order from his superiors to strike hard,” said an Algerian representative of the Association of Protestant Churches (EPA).
Krimo’s sentence follows an order received by the EPA on May 22 to close seven Protestant churches in the province of Béjaia.
ICC said the notice stated the churches are to be closed in accordance with Ordinance 06-03, which requires churches to obtain government permission to hold services. Though the EPA has made efforts to comply with the ordinance, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Religious Affairs have refused to register churches or to approve permits quickly.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said in a news release, “Algerian Christians have been under attack in recent weeks as laws have been increasingly enforced to discriminate against them. Earlier this week, seven churches in Béjaia were ordered to close. Now, an Algerian Christian is on the verge of being unjustly imprisoned for accusations of criticizing Islam.”
He added, “While Algeria professes that it upholds religious freedom, it also embraces a blasphemy law that, by its very nature, can be used to prosecute anyone who does not adhere to the religion of Islam. We urge Algeria to acquit Siagh of all charges and repeal Article 144 bis 2 of the Penal Code.”
ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide.