Two Algerian Christians may face up to five years in prison for proselytizing, a religious freedom group reported on Monday.
Sofiane and Krimo (last names not given) were scheduled for a court hearing on Wednesday, according to International Christian Concern. But the hearing was postponed to a later, yet-to-be determined date.
The two Christians, who live in a country where 99 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, were arrested in the northwestern Mediterranean city of Oran on April 14 after sharing their faith with neighbors.
Sofiane was held for one day, while Krimo, who holds weekly prayer services at his home, was held for three days.
Algerian Christians are worried that the court will enforce a 2006 law that requires religious groups to obtain a government permit to hold worship service. If the law is applied in the case, then Sofiane and Krimo could face five years in prison and a fine of about $1,390 (100,000 Algerian dinars).
“The Protestant Church of Algeria engaged a lawyer to defend Krimo and Sofiane. We are hopeful that they will be acquitted,” said a pastor (name withheld for security concerns) in Tizi Ouzou to ICC. “Although our constitution says to respect other faiths other than Islam, the government is Islamic and article two says, ‘Islam is the religion of State.’”
“There is no respect for human rights or religious freedom and the Protestant church is suffering.”
Christians in Algeria complain that there is no clear procedure for churches to register and quickly receive a permit.
“We urge the Algerian government of expand its pledge to reform the constitution by also offering greater freedoms to Christians and other religious minorities,” said Aidan Clay, ICC regional manager for the Middle East.
“It is time for the Algerian government to prove that they stand behind article 36 of the constitution, which states that freedom of creed is inviolable, by acquitting Krimo and Sofiane,” said Clay.