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ALGERIA: Christians arrested for conversion, opening church

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Four Algerian citizens who were formerly Muslim were arrested recently because they converted to Christianity and opened a church without permission.

The defendants, who range in age from 35 to 45 years old, are charged for opening a Christian Protestant church in the town Larbaa Nath Irathen, located 90 miles east of Algiers, the capital city, without permission, Morocco Board News Service said.

One of the defendants is also accused of illegally housing a French pastor who visited the country and who addressed believers from the Christian community, News 24 said.

Prosecutors asked that the Christians be jailed for one year each, according to the AFP. The trial, which was originally set for Oct. 10, was postponed because the court said that witnesses were needed to produce evidence, News 24 said.

Attorney Mohamed BenBelkacem told the AFP that the verdict should be handed down on December 12. He added, “The trial was conducted in good conditions. The prosecutor asked for one year in prison for each of the accused, which is the minimum sentence provided by the law.”

A 2006 law in Algeria states that Muslims and non-Muslims are only allowed to practice their faith if they have the permission of authorities to worship in an agreed-upon place of worship and if they are amenable to the preacher, AFP said.

Clampdown on Christians

However, News 24 cited a seeming clampdown on minorities, largely Christian converts, over the past few months. Several trials have been conducted in this country where Islam is the state religion.

Recently two Christians and eight Muslims were alleged to have broken the daily fast during Ramadan last August. The Christians were acquitted last October, while the Muslims were acquitted just this month, according to the AFP.

In October a youth was handed a two-year prison sentence and a fine, initially for failure to fast during Ramadan. Later, the prosecutor changed the offense, saying the youth was sentenced because he broke a window pane at the police station, News 24 said.

Last month Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahiah, in an address to parliament, said that Algeria would “always guarantee” freedom of religion, the AFP said. The religious affairs ministry claims there are 11,000 Christians in the country, but the Protestant Church says there are 30,000 Christians among the Protestants alone, the Morocco Board News Service said.