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ICC Note:  An Algerian Pastor lost his appeal yesterday of sentence that involved paying a heavy fine of $868 for transporting 56 Bibles. The sentence was originally received in March. The Pastor had been responding to a call from an unknown Muslim who wanted to know more about Christ, but was instead stopped at a checkpoint. Algerian authorities are increasingly become more strategic and aggressive in their persecution of Christians.           

05/18/2018 Algeria (Morning Star News) –    A case that began with police in Algeria stopping a Christian suspected of carrying Bibles in his car ended yesterday with a large fine for the church leader.

A judge in Tiaret, 600 kilometers (372 miles) southwest of Algiers, on Wednesday (May 16) denied pastor Nouredine Belabed’s appeal of a sentence of a 100,000-dinar (US$868) fine and payment of court fees under a controversial law that forbids “undermining the faith of a Muslim.” Belabed had received the sentence on March 8, including a three-month suspended prison term reduced from what had been a two-year prison term.

The 37-year-old father of three was traveling with a companion, identified only as 26-year-old Khalil, to Tiaret on March 14, 2015 when gendarmes stopped their vehicle, Pastor Belabed told Morning Star News. National Gendarmerie in Tiaret had contacted officers in Sidi Abderrahmane to report two suspects driving an Opel Zaphira coming from El-Bayadh toward Tiaret with Christian books on board.

“We went to El-Bayadh to see our Christian brothers, but also to answer the call of a man who contacted us to know Christ,” Pastor Belabed told Morning Star News. “I do not know him, but we are used to working that way. But once there, he called me to apologize for not being able to come. Back at a gendarmerie checkpoint at a junction, we were stopped to search the vehicle from top to bottom. I was sure someone pointed us out.”

A thorough search followed, ending with the officers seizing 56 books, according to a police report delivered to prosecutors at a court in Frenda, 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of Tiaret. The books included the Gospel of Mathew, Bibles, a Bible commentary, a book on church history and some pamphlets.

Pastor Belabed told officers that he had bought them at a Christian bookstore in Algiers after a meeting with other church leaders at the headquarters of the legally recognized Protestant Church of Algeria (l’Église Protestante d’Algérie, or EPA). He told them he meant to distribute them free to other Christians or any other person who wanted to know Christ, he said.

“They detained us at the gendarmerie brigade from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. after photocopying each of the books we were carrying,” he said. “Since then we did not hear of this case. I thought they had forgotten us.”

Nearly two years later, around Christmas of 2017, he was informed that a security warrant had been issued on him and that he had been sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars (US$434) by a court in Frenda.

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For interviews with Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org