A jailed Christian man has been freed in the north African nation of Algeria under a presidential pardon for more than 8,000 prisoners.
‘Basem’ was serving a one-year sentence for “unauthorised Christian worship.”
He had invited a pastor to his home last year and was arrested for conducting a banned religious activity.
International Christian Concern (ICC) reports that: “In recent years, the Algerian government has cracked down on Christians and other religious minorities who counter the country’s main religion of Islam. Algeria’s penal code criminalises blasphemy against Islam and prohibits non-Muslims from proselytising. Both ‘crimes’ could earn Algerians a hefty fine and prison sentence.”
In November 2022, the US State Department named Algeria to its Special Watch List (SWL) for engaging in, or tolerating, severe violations of religious freedom during the previous year. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also recommended SWL status for the Algerian government in its recently released 2023 annual report.
Dozens of Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and other religious minorities in the North African country have been detained for practicing their faith and do not have legal representation. Lawyers are often afraid and unwilling to intervene due to the high-risk nature of these cases. Detainees are hard-pressed to find a Christian lawyer in Algeria, leaving them afraid or unwilling to share details about their cases.
‘Basem’ was represented by an Algerian lawyer who was prepared to appeal his case to the Supreme Court which would have attracted international attention.
“While we are grateful for the release of ‘Basem’ and other religious prisoners, we are disappointed that the Algerian government continues to reinforce laws that discriminate against Christians and other religious minorities,” said McKenna Hammack, ICC Advocacy Manager for the Middle East and Northern Africa.
“We encourage Algeria to hold true to Article 51 of its Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of worship for all people without discrimination.” he added.