FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Algerian Christian Faces 3 Years in Prison for Carrying Christian Books
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(May 23, 2008) The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.www.persecution.org has learned that Habiba Qawider could be sentenced to three years in prison for carrying Christian books while traveling on a public bus from Tiaret to Oran, Algeria.
Habiba, 39, was first detained by police on March 29. The police freed her after detaining her for 24 hours, but ordered her to appear in court in the city of Tiaret on May 7.
The court, however, delayed her case until Tuesday, May 20. During the initial hearing, the public prosecutor accused her of practicing “non-Muslim worship without authorization” and demanded the court to sentence her to three years in prison.
The prosecutor’s argument was that carrying Christian books is tantamount to practicing Christianity, which is legal only in designated areas approved by the government. If the court accepts this argument, it would set a dangerous precedent that could send all of Algeria ’s Christians to prison.
In response to a question from El-Watan, an Algerian daily newspaper, if there was any law that prohibits carrying Christian books in Algeria , Khelloudja Khalfoun, Habiba’s lawyer, said, “No! There is no law which prohibits people to be in possession of religious books. There is a provision of the Ordinance of 2006 which prohibits having a number of booklets, books and distribute them to undermine the faith of Muslims .on the contrary, it [carrying a Bible] is a lawful act which is guaranteed and protected by the Constitution [of Algeria]. The Constitution speaks of freedom of worship and sees it as sacred.”
After hearing the arguments from the public prosecutor and the defendant, the court has set the date for its decision as Tuesday, May 27, 2008.
Double Jeopardy for Christian Man
In another development, a Christian man named Djallal was detained yesterday, May 22, 2008. Djallal and another Christian were first arrested by police in June 2007 when police found Christian literature in their car. He and his companion were brought before the court in Tissemsilt , Algeria , which is near Tiaret. The court found them not guilty.
However, when Djallal’s father contacted authorities yesterday to ask why his son had been detained again, they told him that he would be transferred to Tissemsilt. It seems that he is facing charges in the same case in which he was tried and found not guilty in 2007.
Campaign against Christians
This year Algerian officials have begun cracking down on Christians. More than 20 churches have been closed by Algerian officials under the guise of failing to register with an as yet non-existent government body.
Many Christians have also received suspended prison terms, threatening them with prison if they continue evangelizing Muslims.
Algeria has made a huge comeback from a bloody civil war between the government and Islamic terrorists that resulted in the death of over 100,000 Algerians. Currently, the country is enjoying peace and economic progress, but its heavy-handed approach towards Christians, which constitute less than 1% of the total population, is tarnishing its image.
Darara Gubo, ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa , said, “Algerian officials have the duty to respect religious freedom. They must, therefore, re-open the closed churches, and stop detaining and harassing Christians who are practicing their faith. The international community must exert pressure on the government of Algeria so that the country stops violating religious freedom.”
Christians can help their brothers and sisters in Algeria by praying for them and by calling Algerian embassies in their respective countries. Please politely ask the Algerian embassy officials to re-open the churches in their country, and to stop harassing and imprisoning Christians. Please also specifically bring Habiba’s and Djallal’s cases to their attention.
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ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church. For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441.