A court in Algeria has thrown out a prison sentence, but has increased a fine, on a man convicted of trying to convert a Muslim to Christianity.
Ibouène Mohamed was sentenced in July 2012 to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars after he was accused by a co-worker of attempting to convert him to Christianity, a charge that Mohamed denied. He was not informed of the charges against him, he did not attend the trial, and did not serve any time behind bars after the verdict.
The verdict and penalty were affirmed by an appeals court on Jan. 23. On Wednesday, the prison sentence was overturned by a further appeals court in Béchar in northwest Algeria, but the fine was doubled to 100,000 dinars, or about US $1,300.
“We are profoundly upset by the verdict,’’ Mustapha Krim, president of the Protestant Church of Algeria, told World Watch Monitor. ‘‘It is absolutely unfair to condemn a young man to a prison sentence just because he had a talk with his co-worker.’’
Krim and Ibouene Mohamaed’s attorney, Benbelkacem Mohamed, said they will appeal the decision, which they called “unfair.” Ibouene will not be required to pay the fine while the case is under appeal.
Originally from the more Christian northern region of Algeria, Mohamed is employed in a multinational company in the western city of Tindouf.
Algeria passed a law in 2006 regulating the public expression of religions other than Islam. It permits courts to sentence Christians to a maximum five years in prison for preaching the gospel to a Muslim.
Since the law was adopted, several Christians have been sentenced to suspended prison terms and fined.
In 2008, Christian teacher Habiba Kouider was charged under the 2006 law for illegal possession of bibles. Her trial drew widespread media attention and rebukes from the European Parliament and human-rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International. The case is still pending.
In May 2011, the governor of the north-east province of Béjaïa invoked the 2006 law to order the closure of seven protestant churches accused of operating ‘’illegally.”
‘‘This law is unacceptable and must be removed,’’ Krim said.
Algeria is ranked No. 29 in the 2013 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The list pressure on Christians is increasing, due primarly to Islamization of the region in the wake of the two-year-old Arab Spring.
The World Watch List is published annually by Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry to persecuted Christians.