By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

06 June 2008

Algerian Christians given suspended jail terms

47a4052f1d503d4e50561d34659585cd.jpgTIARET, Algeria (Reuters) - Four Algerian Christians received suspended jail terms and fines on Tuesday for seeking to convert Muslims in the latest in a series of cases to have provoked accusations in the West of religious repression.

Christian groups overseas and Algerian secular liberals point to recent state-ordered closures of some churches and prosecutions for proselytism as evidence that the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 33 million is persecuting minority Christians.

The government denies harassing Christians, believed to number about 10,000. The state-appointed Higher Islamic Council, which regulates religious practice, says Protestant evangelicals are secretly trying to divide Algerians to colonise the country.

A court in the western town of Tiaret handed a six month suspended prison term to Rachid Seghir, a 36-year-old computer technician, and fined him 200,000 dinars for breaking a provision in a 2006 law that forbids non-Muslims from seeking to convert Muslims.

Jillali Saidi, Abdelhak Rabih and Chaabane Baikel received two months suspended prison sentences and were fined 100,000 dinars each. The four said they intended to appeal. Two other accused, Mohamed Khan and Abdelkader Hori, were acquitted.

Under a provision in the 2006 law that limits religious worship to specific buildings approved by the state, more than a dozen churches have been closed in the past six months. Several mosques have also been closed under the same provision.

Larbi Drissi, a lawyer representing the Ministry of Religious Affairs, said: "We are satisfied with the verdicts because at the end of the day what we want is that people, irrespective of their religion, practise religion under the framework of the law."

Defence lawyer Khelloudja Khalfoun said: "The verdict confirms an attitude of lack of respect for freedom of conscience. All the group should have been acquitted."

Speaking to journalists outside the court before the hearing, Seghir said: "We are Christians and we are not ashamed to say it."

Algeria is almost totally Muslim. Most of its Christian colonial settler population fled shortly after independence from France in 1962.

Secular liberals suspect that tightening curbs on Christian activity is a headline-grabbing tactic to pander to widespread Islamist sentiment ahead of presidential elections in 2009.

In a case stirred further concern in the West, the prosecutor at the Tiaret court last month demanded a three-year jail term for an Algerian woman, Habib Kouider, on a charge of "practising a non-Muslim religion without authorisation".

Critics argue she was breaking no law simply by practising her religion and pointed out that the constitution guarantees individual religious freedom. Her cases continues.

posted by /  http://africa.reuters.com/

08:25 Posted in Africa | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook |

The comments are closed.