Algerian Christian Appeals Charge of Blasphemy
Algerian Christian Slimane Bouhafs was sentenced to five years in jail, on charges that he committed blasphemy against Islam and its prophet on social media. Upon appeal, the court has reduced his sentence to three years and has dropped the fine of 100,000 dinars (US$900). However, these accusations do not line up with the reality of his actions according to the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH), working on behalf of Bouhafs and the Protestant Church of Algeria. They believe the case should be further appealed in the higher courts.
Bouhafs, 49, was arrested on July 31 for posting a message on social media about the light of Jesus overcoming the “lie” of Islam and its prophet. He also published photos showing the execution of a civilian by an Islamist terrorist. The courts determined that this was an insult to Islam and its prophet. He appeared before a judge on August 7 in the eastern town of Setifhad where he was convicted of the charges and sentenced. An anonymous source told World Watch monitor that Bouhafs’ maximum sentence was “severe in view of a rather minor offence.” Such comments on social media are commonly made in Algeria without usually triggering the wrath of the authorities, the source added.
Bouhafs appealed the five-year sentence, the maximum possible punishment he could have faced, arguing that he had only spoken out against radical Islam and terrorism. The LADDH called the decision to keep Bouhafs in jail for even a reduced amount of time “amazing and offensive,” and said it will now take his case to the Supreme Court. “Although the sentence has been reduced, LADDH considers imprisonment for this accusation a serious precedent and this is inconsistent with the Constitution and the universal declaration of human rights,” wrote Saïd Salhi, LADDH Vice President. Salhi added that his organization “will continue to follow and explore all ways and legal means to free Bouhafs.” Bouhafs’ family and LADDH are particularly concerned about his health as he suffers from Inflammatory Rheumatism, a condition that worsens under stress and requires a special diet. “This imprisonment is putting his life in danger,” says Salhi.
Bouhafs turned to faith in Christ in 1997, and was baptized in 2006. His daughter Afaf described her father as a man who has defended the interests of his country from a young age. She said he is known for his commitment to democracy and religious freedom in all the writings he publishes on his Facebook page.
Bouhafs belongs to a movement for the self-determination of Kabylie—MAK—a separatist group not tolerated by the authorities. MAK activists are regularly harassed and even arrested. Kabylie, home to most of Algeria’s tiny, but fast-growing, Christian minority, is a vast region on the edge of the Mediterranean in northeastern Algeria, similar in size to Denmark. There is a strong sense of regional identity among the people in this area and resistance to all forms of central control has developed over the years.
Thank You, Father, for the faithful work of Slimane Bouhafs in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to a national in need of truth and light. We pray that You will sustain him in his delicate health as he remains, for now, in prison. And we pray for his release that justice might be accomplished and that this case might be used by to bring about the need for change. Encourage him so that he knows we are praying for him. Use the testimony of his tenacious faith in Christ to strengthen the church in this region. And grant him, and the whole church, much wisdom as they boldly proclaim Your Word that they might discern well when to speak out and when to wait for opportunities that You bring. We pray for the day when the people of Algeria will bow the knee to Christ in worship and praise. In the name of Jesus whose Spirit grants power and authority to His church, Amen.