Arrested for Carrying Bible (Algeria)

An Algerian Christian detained five days for carrying a Bible and personal Bible study books was handed a 300-euro (US$460) fine and a one-year suspended prison sentence last week, an Algerian church leader said.

Last Tuesday (April 29) a court in Djilfa, 150 miles south of Algiers, charged the 33-year-old Muslim convert to Christianity with “printing, storing and distributing” illegal religious material. A written copy of the verdict has yet to be issued.

The Protestant, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told fellow Christians in his home city of Tiaret that police pressured him to return to Islam while in custody.

The conviction is the latest in a wave of detentions and court cases against Algeria’s Protestants and Catholics. Since January police and provincial officials have ordered the closure of up to half of the country’s 50 estimated Protestant congregations.

Officials in several instances have cited a February 2006 law governing the worship of non-Muslims. Clarified by subsequent decrees in 2007, the law restricts most religious meetings to approved places of worship and forbids any attempt to “shake the faith of a Muslim.”

On the morning of April 25, the Tiaret resident and eight-year convert to Christianity was stopped at a police roadblock in the vicinity of Djilfa while riding in a shared taxi. Officials took the convert into custody upon finding a Bible and several religious study books in his luggage.

A Christian from Tiaret told Compass that Djilfa police appeared to have previous knowledge of the Protestant’s Christian connections. Officers refused to let the convert call friends to let them know of his detention, naming a church member in Tiaret whom they claimed he would contact.

“We will call your family for you,” the officials said, according to the Christian source from Tiaret.

According to one Algerian human rights lawyer, police violated the convert’s rights by refusing him the telephone call.

“Any detained person has the right to call his family,” said the lawyer, who requested anonymity.

A leader from the Protestant Church of Algeria, an umbrella association for mainline and evangelical congregations, said that Christians remained unaware of the detainee’s location for several days.

Precarious Position

The Christian source in Tiaret said that Djilfa police verbally attacked the convert because of his faith during his five-day detention at city’s police station.

“They did not hit him, but they tried to convert him back to Islam,” he said.

Under Algerian law, police can detain a suspect up to 48 hours before bringing him before a state prosecutor, the human rights lawyer told Compass.

“It is not legal for them to hold him for five days,” said the lawyer, who clarified that any detention between 24 and 48 hours had to be approved by a state prosecutor.

After five days in Djilfa’s main police station, the Christian was brought before a state prosecutor and then a Djilfa judge. According to the convert, the judge convicted him of “printing, storing and distributing” illegal religious literature, though the charge remains uncertain until a written verdict is issued.

Before releasing him, the judge told the convert he would be given a 300 euro fine and a one-year suspended sentence.

According to the Tiaret Christian, the convert received the “printing” charge because he was traveling with a computer printer in his possession. The convert has yet to receive a written copy of the verdict, though observers said this was common in Algeria, as court verdicts are normally sent by mail following a ruling.

Because the sentence is suspended, the convert will only have to do jail time if convicted of another crime. But the Tiaret Christian said that the verdict constituted an ongoing threat to the Christian.

“A policeman could bring false accusations against him, that he gave one of them a Bible, and he would be thrown in jail,” the friend said.

Christians in Tiaret reported two separate instances in which undercover police officers pretended to be interested in Christianity and then detained Protestants for giving them Bibles.

Charges were thrown out for the first incident in March. In the second case a Tiaret court handed a Christian a two-year suspended sentence and a 100,000-dinar (US$1,540) fine on April 2. The written verdict was delivered on April 9.

At least five Christians from Tiaret have been detained or tried for Christian activities since January 2008.

According to unconfirmed reports, Tiaret police detained six more Christians today.

Christians constitute a tiny minority of Algeria’s population of 33 million. Catholics count several thousand congregants, mostly expatriates, while numbers for Protestants are less certain.

Conservative estimates place the number of Protestants at 10,000, though evangelism via satellite TV has reportedly led to a large number of isolated conversions unaccounted for in church attendance figures.

http://www.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=lead&lang=en&length=long&idelement=&backpage=&critere=&countryname=&rowcur

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Saudi Arabia wishes you all a happy Passover!

Which is interesting considering Judaism (and every other non-Islamic religion) is banned there.

Also worth noting, the official government policy openly proclaimed that Jews were forbidden from entering the country.

I am very interested in a statement made by Dr Alyami of The Center for Democracy and Human Rights (in Saudi Arabia. He stated“the struggle against slavery may have started thousands of years ago [but] it never stops and must not until we are all free from fear, oppression, hate and looming ideological threats.” Such a statement coming from Saudi Arabia is indeed worthy of special mention. Saudi Arabia is renowned worldwide for its treatment of women – women cannot drive, they cannot leave the home unaccompanied by a man, they have to seek permission to travel out of the country by a man, they have to abide by strict dress codes etc. In short, Saudi Arabia is not the most liberal and free country. Maybe coming from the West I have simply taken the statement on pure face value. In applying freedom of oppression my background gives such a term a relative meaning.

Could it be that the inequality between men and women in their culture is so institutionally oppressed that they do not recognise it as such?

Distinct from the treatment of women,  Saudi Arabia is renowned for its religious apartheid. Testifying before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on June 4, 2002, in a briefing entitled “Human Rights in Saudi Arabia: The Role of Women”, Ali Al-Ahmed, Director of the Saudi Institute, stated:

Saudi Arabia is a glaring example of religious apartheid. The religious institutions from government clerics to judges, to religious curricula, and all religious instructions in media are restricted to the Wahhabi understanding of Islam, adhered to by less than 40% of the population. The Saudi government communized Islam, through its monopoly of both religious thoughts and practice. Wahhabi Islam is imposed and enforced on all Saudis regardless of their religious orientations. The Wahhabi sect does not tolerate other religious or ideological beliefs, Muslim or not. Religious symbols by Muslims, Christians, Jewish and other believers are all banned. The Saudi embassy in Washington is a living example of religious apartheid. In its 50 years, there has not been a single non-Sunni Muslim diplomat in the embassy. The branch of Imam Mohamed Bin Saud University in Fairfax, Virginia instructs its students that Shia Islam is a Jewish conspiracy.

According to Freedom House’s 2006 report,

The Saudi Ministry of Education Islamic studies textbooks … continue to promote an ideology of hatred that teaches bigotry and deplores tolerance. These texts continue to instruct students to hold a dualistic worldview in which there exist two incompatible realms – one consisting of true believers in Islam … and the other the unbelievers – realms that can never coexist in peace. Students are being taught that Christians and Jews and other Muslims are “enemies” of the true believer… The textbooks condemn and denigrate Shiite and Sufi Muslims’ beliefs and practices as heretical and call them “polytheists”, command Muslims to hate Christians, Jews, polytheists and other “unbelievers”, and teach that the Crusades never ended, and identify Western social service providers, media outlets, centers for academic studies, and campaigns for women’s rights as part of the modern phase of the Crusades.

For a country to make such grand statements with such a horrible track record is bewildering. I hope there is sincerity in their words which they begin to work towards.