TIZI-OUZOU, Algeria, May 4, 2022 (Morning Star News) – A group of Christians arrested on Dec. 12 received a reduction in their sentence for “unauthorized worship” last week, one of those convicted said.
The 11 Christians, including the owner of the site rented for the occasion, had received a suspended sentence of six months in prison and a 200,000 dinar-fine (US$1,380) each, and on appeal a court on Thursday (April 28) retained the suspended prison sentence but reduced the fine to 100,000 dinars (US$690), the source said.
Algeria’s 2006 ordinance, Law 06/03, stipulates that all non-Muslim worship must be carried out in buildings designated with official permission, though the government has failed to consider any applications for granting permission, according to advocacy organization Middle East Concern (MEC).
Police in Tizi-Ouzou on Dec. 4 raided the site of the gathering of the 12 Christians, including three women and a French guest speaker, and arrested them for non-Muslim worship without authorization. They spent 48 hours in the police jail before appearing before a judge on Dec. 6, the source said.
They were each sentenced to six months suspended sentence and a fine of 200,000 dinars. While the Algerian nationals appealed, the French visitor paid the fine and was then ordered to leave the country.
On appeal, the remaining 11 appeared in court on April 14, and in the verdict dated April 28 they received a reduction of their fine to 100,000 dinars (US$690), the source said.
In Aïn El Hamam, 45 kilometers (27 miles) southeast of Tizi Ouzou in Djurdjura, in the Kabylia region, authorities in January charged a pastor with unauthorized worship at his home and unauthorized broadcasting on social networks.
The pastor, unnamed for security reasons, had undertaken such practicees without problem for years, he said. A judge acquitted him earlier this year, and when the proesecution appealed, the judge again acquitted the pastor on March 24.
Algerian officials have launched a systematic campaign against Christians and churches over the past four years, with 16 Protestant churches sealed and several others ordered to close, according to MEC. Several Christians, including church leaders, have been prosecuted on different charges including blasphemy and proselytizing.
Three Christians are serving prison sentences ranging from two to five years.
The EPA, the only recognized association for Protestant churches in Algeria, has 47 members. Officially recognized as a religious association in 1974, it was required to re-register under a change in the law in 2012, but so far authorities have not approved its application.
Islam is the state religion in Algeria, where 99 percent of the population of 40 million are Muslim. Since 2000, thousands of Algerian Muslims have put their faith in Christ. Algerian officials estimate the number of Christians at 50,000, but others say it could be twice that number.
Algeria ranked 22nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, up from 42nd place in 2018.
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