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On May 25 in Oran, 292 miles west of the capital city of Algiers, a criminal court sentenced Christian convert Siaghi Krimo to a prison term of five years for giving a CD about Christianity to a neighbor who subsequently claimed he had insulted Muhammad. The court tried Krimo based solely on the complaint filed by his neighbor, who accused him of attempting to convert him to Christianity.
The verdict stunned the Christian community by sentencing him beyond what a prosecutor recommended. The prosecutor had reportedly requested the judge sentence him to a two-year prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars (US$690). Instead, along with the five-year prison sentence, Krimo was also fined 200,000 Algerian dinars (US$2,760), according to Algerian news reports.
“He gave a CD to a neighbor, and for that he has to spend five years in prison,” said the president of the Protestant Church of Algeria, Mustapha Krim, trying to contain his disbelief. Defense lawyer Mohamed Ben Belkacem told Compass that the judge’s verdict was unexpected and heavy, indicating the legal system’s prejudice against Christians. The lawyer said he plans to appeal the case. Krimo is not required to serve his prison sentence until the court hears his appeal and upholds the conviction.
Krim said that if the courts start interpreting the law as it did in Krimo’s case, then the future of Algeria’s Christians is grim. “If they start applying the law like that, it means there is no respect for Christianity,” Krim said, “and pretty soon all the Christians of Algeria will find themselves in prison. If the simple fact of giving a CD to your neighbor costs five years in prison, this is catastrophic.”
The court delivered its verdict the same week that the governor of the province of Bejaia ordered the closing of seven Protestant churches. Over the weekend (May 27-29) authorities did not interfere with the scheduled worship meetings in the district of Bejaia despite the order for all the churches of the area to close, and threats that police could use force. “The services proceeded normally, with no police intervention,” said Krim. “So we are continuing and waiting to see if they decide to act otherwise.”
For many years, the EPA (Eglise Prostestante d’Algérie or in English Protestant Church of Algeria) has tried to gain official recognition with the authorities. Without this recognition the government effectively can shut down any religious non-Muslim service. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Interior have delayed responding to applications for registration by the EPA ever since. Authorities in Algeria find legal ground for closing down churches as the result of ‘Ordinance 06-03’. Articles 5 - 9 of this law stipulate that all structures designated for the practice of religious worship other than Islam must be registered by the state. This also includes modification to existing buildings. Further, it includes that worship may only take place in structures exclusively intended and approved for that purpose, which prohibits informal Christian services in private homes or in outdoor settings.
“Christians live in a very difficult situation in Algeria,” Ben Belkacem said. “They are just tolerated for the sake of foreign politics and in reality have no liberty to worship, since no association is recognized despite the many efforts taken.” There are more than 99,000 Christians in Algeria, less than 0.3 percent of the total population of 35.4 million people, according to Operation World. Muslims make up more than 97 percent of the population.
Father, we pray specifically for the case of our Christian brother Siaghi Krimo to be appealed and his prison sentence overturned. We ask that through this time, he would draw closer to You, and that many other Christians will come around him to encourage and comfort him. If he does have to serve time, we pray that he will proclaim the Gospel so that those around him can hear and believe. Please protect the Algerian Christian community, and we earnestly pray that the government would not gain authority to shut down Christian services, but instead You would help the EPA gain recognition and respect. Finally, we ask that more people throughout North Africa would be shown the Truth and turn to Christ as their Savior. Amen