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Algerian President Pardons Christian Prisoner among Thousands

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune signed a presidential decree in late April that pardoned more than 8,000 detainees, an annual gesture to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Among those released from prison was Basem*, an Algerian Christian serving a one-year sentence for “unauthorized Christian worship.” Basem had invited another Christian pastor to his home in 2022 and was arrested by local police for conducting religious activities in an unauthorized location.

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 criminalizes blasphemy against Islam and Ordinance 06-03 prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing. Both ‘crimes’ could earn Algerians a hefty fine and prison sentence.

In November 2022, the U.S. 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, Ahmadis, 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. And 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 garnered 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, International Christian Concern (ICC) Advocacy Manager for the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA). “We encourage Algeria to hold true to Article 51 of its Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of worship for all people without discrimination.”

Algerian President Tebboune, 77, was elected in 2019 and faces reelection in 2024.

Source : Persecution