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ICC Note:  Idir Hamdad, an Algerian convert, has been fined $175 for “importing unlicensed goods.” This is a reference to the Bible and crucifix keyrings which he was found to be carrying in September 2017.  He was initially convicted in absentia and also given a 6-month prison sentence, although the prison sentence was overturned on appeal. Idir Hamdad has reported much harassment and intimidation since his conversion to Christianity in 2002.

05/13/2018 Algeria (World Watch Monitor) – A court in Algeria has overturned a prison sentence, but upheld a fine, against a Christian man convicted for carrying a Bible and other Christian items.

Idir Hamdad, 29, had been convicted in absentia on 28 September 2017 (though he only learned about this five months later) and given the maximum sentence of six months in prison, as well as a fine of 20,000 DA (roughly $175).

On 3 May, a court in Dar-El-Beida, an eastern district of the capital Algiers, overturned the prison sentence but upheld the fine for “importing unlicensed goods”.

His lawyer, Nadjib Sadek, who said he had expected all the charges to be dropped, called the verdict “ridiculous” and said he would appeal.

“To condemn a Christian for carrying about 20 keyrings – including four or five which have crucifixes – and six scarves is an aberration in view of Article 365 of the customs code,” Sadek told World Watch Monitor. “These objects are neither subject to authorisation for importation, nor expensive.”

Churches and individual Christians in Algeria have faced increased harassment in recent months, raising concerns that these pressures signal a “coordinated campaign of intensified action against churches by the governing authorities”, according to Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern.

There have been several similar cases in recent years that have been frozen. But there are concerns that these cases will now be revived.

Idir Hamdad’s case dates back to April 2016, when he was arrested at the airport following a complaint by the customs office.

Hamdad comes from a very modest Muslim family. He lost his father in 1996. In 2002, he converted to Christianity. So did his sister and his mother. But their conversion was not welcomed by their neighbourhood. In Algeria, where Islam is the state religion, conversion to another religion is considered apostasy, an act punishable by the death penalty.

As a result of their conversion, Hamdad and his family suffered lots of harassment and rejection from their community, before being welcomed by a local church. Over time, Hamad’s faith strengthened and he became involved in children’s ministry.

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