Algiers (AsiaNews) – Four Algerian Muslim converts to Christians were convicted for setting up an illegal place of worship in Kabylia, a region in the eastern part of the country. This is the first conviction of its kind in Algeria. Although it was suspended, the sentence ranges from two to three months in prison.
Three of the men—Abdenour Raid, Nacer Mokrani and Idir Haoudj—got two months. The fourth man, Rev Mahmoud Yahou, was sentenced to three months in jail and a 1,000-dinar fine (US$ 125) for illegally sheltering a foreigner.
The trial was held in Larbaa Nath Irathen, in Tizi Ouzou province. The Prosecutor had asked for a year for each of the accused, who range between 35 and 45 in age.
In Algeria, a 2006 law requires that anyone who wants to set up a place of worship, whether for Muslims or non-Muslims, must obtain a permit, indicating the name of the place of worship as well as that of the preacher.
The four men were convicted of opening a Protestant church without a proper licence issued by the authority. However, Rev Yahou told French daily La Croix on 10 December that the accusation is absurd. “I have being welcoming foreign guests since 2003. They have all entered Algeria with a visa because I signed the accommodation certificate for them”.
According to some observers, this trial against Algeria’s Christian minority reflects a crackdown undertaken by Algerian government since February 2006 against non-Muslim religions. Since the 1990s, the country has been targeted by Islamic extremists.
Under the 2006 law, places of worship need a permit. “Undermining” Muslims’ faith and “inciting” them to convert are crimes (although no definition of them is given).
According to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (in power since 1999 and now on his third mandate), the 2006 law respects the Algerian constitution. Many observers disagree since it creates a grey area that allows the government and the police to move against religious minorities, despite the constitutional protection of religious freedom.