Photo: Siagh Krimo, an Algerian Christian sentenced to a five-year prison term for giving a CD about Christianity to his neighbor, waits outside the courthouse in Oran (ASSIST News Service).
ALGERIA (ANS) -- In a positive turn of events, the long-awaited trial of Algerian Christian Siagh Krimo was postponed last Thursday after a large gathering of Muslim and Christian supporters rallied for his acquittal.
In the unusual show of public solidarity, the demonstrators’ message rang loud and clear – to unjustly condemn one Algerian is to violate the rights of all Algerians.
Krimo, 29, was arrested on April 14 and detained for three days in Oran for giving a CD about Christianity to a neighbor. On May 4, Krimo was given a five year prison sentence for blasphemy based on the neighbor’s accusation that he had insulted the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Krimo was sentenced according to Article 144 bis 2 of Algeria’s Penal Code, which criminalizes acts that “insult the Prophet and any of the messengers of God, or denigrate the creed and precepts of Islam.” Having appealed the decision, Krimo waits to be summoned to an appellate court where a final verdict is expected to be handed down.
“In the argument which led to the conviction of my client, there is no evidence,” Krimo’s lawyer, Muhammad Ben Belkacem, told the Algerian daily Liberté. “Even the person who complained was never presented at the hearing. ... [All evidence], including DVDs seized at the home of Siagh Krimo, were never presented in court. ... As for insulting the Prophet, [Krimo] totally denies it!”
The day before the anticipated trial was to be held, a gathering of human right activists, journalists, and concerned Muslims and Christians assembled outside the Ministry of Justice in Algiers demanding that Krimo’s prison sentence and fine of 200,000 dinars ($2,700 USD) be overturned. To many Algerians, Krimo’s verdict was viewed not merely as an offense committed against a Christian, but as a direct violation of the human rights of all Algerians.
“People decided to show solidarity with their fellow citizen who had chosen a religion that suited him,” Kaddour Chouicha, a representative of the National Coordination for Change and Democracy, told Radio France Internationale. “The Algerian constitution allows freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and freedom of thought. The judge exceeded his powers by ruling in accordance to his ideology over his regard for the law.”
Selma, a Muslim student, agreed. “So what if he is an Algerian Jew or Christian, he has the right to live like any other who is a Muslim,” she told the independent newspaper El Watan. “A Christian completely has the right to offer someone a Bible, just as a Muslim has the right to offer a Quran. Previously, these types of cases were mostly held in Kabylie, now they are taking place in Oran. Where will it go from here?”
Outside the Ministry of Justice, both Muslims and Christians held up signs which read, “Freedom to worship equals equality for all” and “I am Muslim and tolerant.” The sit-in had its intended effect.
“As the group began to grow in number of participants ... a representative of the Ministry of Justice came out to talk to us,” a spokesman of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) told ICC. “[We] told the official that the judge had abused his power by hastily sentencing Siagh Krimo. The official said he would resolve the problem. That is why the trial was postponed.”
Krimo’s trial follows a series of convictions in recent years targeting Algerian Christians for proselytizing or for failing to publically observe the practices of Islam, like fasting during Ramadan. Evident in the recent demonstrations, however, is a steadily growing acceptance of Algeria’s Christian minority. Recent government decisions – like the July 18 resolution that granted EPA churches permission to apply for official registration – have been welcome improvements. Yet, while Algeria’s central government has made positive steps to promote religious freedom, provincial authorities and district courts have at times undermined those efforts by reaching a judgment based on personal conviction rather than the rule of law.
Though laws that discriminate against religious minorities are found in Algeria’s legal codes, Algeria has also acceded to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states in Article 18 that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion ... [and] in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Krimo’s final verdict, now scheduled to be announced on December 1, will display the importance Algeria’s government places on upholding the “freedom of creed” guaranteed in Article 36 of the country’s constitution. On the day Krimo’s case is reexamined, a crowd of Muslims and Christians will reunite outside the courthouse under the shared principle that religious freedom is the inviolable right of people from all faiths. Will the government heed their calls for equality or revert to the same discriminatory laws used time and again to silence religious minorities? We will soon find out.
Aidan Clay is the Middle East Regional Manager for International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington, D.C.-based human rights organization that exists to support persecuted Christians worldwide by providing awareness, advocacy, and assistance (www.persecution.org). Aidan is a graduate from Biola University in Southern California. Prior to joining ICC, Aidan worked with Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan and he has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa and Europe. He and his wife currently live in Nairobi, Kenya. For more information, contact Aidan Clay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: November 27, 2011