The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has condemned several court rulings in Algeria that restrict Christian freedom of religion.
USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza referred to recent decisions by the Algerian courts convicting Christians of blasphemy and proselytizing. The multi-year prison sentences imposed and the forcibly sealed churches showing that the country is “going in the wrong direction,” she said.
On March 22, the City of Oran Court upheld the five-year prison sentence of 42-year-old Christian Hamid Soudad for insulting the prophet of Islam, Mohammed, by sharing a cartoon on social media.
On June 6, an Oran court sentenced bookstore owner Pastor Rachid Mohamed Seighir and his assistant Nouh Hamimi to one year suspended prison sentence. The verdict followed a police raid on the bookstore in September 2017 and a conviction in February 2021 for “printing, storing or distributing materials that can” shake “a Muslim’s faith”. The judgment requires the two Christians to each pay DZD 200,000 (approx. $ 1,500; £ 1,080; € 1,260). They have appealed against the judgment to the Higher Regional Court.
Pastor Rachid was also affected by a judgment from an administrative court in Oran on June 4th. The court issued an order to seal three church buildings originally closed by the government in July 2020, including Pastor Rachid’s own church. Appeals have been filed against these closings.
“These court decisions are an apparent attempt to deny Algerian Christians their right to freedom of religion or belief,” commented USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie, calling on US government officials to show the United States’ commitment to the freedom of religion for Algerian Christians and others religious minorities by participating in the relevant legal proceedings.
In its annual report for 2021, USCIRF recommended that the State Department put Algeria on its “Special Watch List” for violating the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) by “committing or tolerating serious violations of religious freedom”.