Charges Dropped Against Algerian Christian Facing Jail

ICC Note:  A court in Algeria has dropped the charges against Idir Hamdad, who had been given a jail sentence and fine for carrying a Bible and Christian items. The prosecutor is appealing the court’s decision, and is now asking for a harsher sentence. This case has been ongoing since September 2017. Algerian Christians face a number of restrictions in regards to the practice of their faith and the authorities have increasingly narrowed the space in which they are allowed to exercise their faith.

07/12/2018 Algeria (World Watch Monitor) – An Algerian Christian given a jail sentence and a fine for carrying a Bible and other Christian items has been acquitted.

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 2018, 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”.

Hamdad, who is involved in children ministry with Église Protestante du Plein Évangile (The Full Gospel Protestant Church, also known by its French acronym EPPETO) in the eastern city of Tizi Ouzou, was first arrested in April 2016 as he returned home from attending a workshop abroad.

He was detained at the airport in Algiers, the capital, and subjected to lengthy police interrogation, as World Watch Monitor reported.

Hamdad was accused of carrying in his bag a few gift items with Christian inscriptions – crucifixes, keyrings and scarves.

But on Monday, 9 July 2018, the court dropped the charges against him. (Though on 4 July, he had been informed by the court that the prosecutor had appealed, asking for a harsher sentence.)

In its verdict, the court in Dar-El-Beida found that Hamdad was prosecuted “simply because he converted to Christianity, and what he was carrying was only gifts”.

Therefore the court pronounced his “total acquittal” and asked the public treasury to pay charges and costs related to the prosecution.

“I am happy to be free at last,” Hamdad told World Watch Monitor. “I no longer have to travel all the way to Algiers, about 200km, to present myself before the judge and to answer false and unjustified accusations.”

Salah Chalah, the pastor of the Full Gospel Church in Tizi Ouzou, welcomed the verdict, saying it was the result of “the mobilisation of our friends and brothers through their prayers and diplomatic pressure”.

“However, this doesn’t mean that all our problems are resolved,” said Chalah, who is also the Vice-President of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). “Hence it’s important to remain vigilant until the Church in Algeria can get its full registration and becomes a social reality with which the authorities must contend.”

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.

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