The Algerian government imposed heavy fines on two brothers for carrying over 50 Bibles in their car, just weeks after it denied that it is discriminating against the country's religious minority by ordering the closure of several churches in recent months, according to World Watch Monitor.
The brothers, Nouredine and Belabbes Khalil, had claimed that the Bibles they were carrying were for church use only, but prosecutors insisted that the books were to be used for proselytism.
According to World Watch Monitor, the two brothers were each fined 100,000 dinar (US$900) on March 8, by a court in Tiaret, about 300 kilometers southwest of the capital, Algiers.
The case of the brothers stems from their arrest in 2015, when they were interrogated about where the 56 Bibles came from and what they were planning to do with them.
They maintained that the Bibles were intended for their church community, which Nouredine leads, so the police returned the books and released the two men. However, the brothers faced legal action after their case was referred to a prosecutor.
A court initially sentenced the brothers to two years in prison and a 50,000-dinar fine in December 2017, but the jail sentences were overturned at their appeal hearing on March 8. The brothers were given suspended sentences of three months each, but their fines were doubled.
The Protestant Church of Algeria (known by its French acronym, EPA) has denounced the fines against the two men as "intimidation." The organization has assigned a group of lawyers to help the brothers appeal the March 8 verdict.
The fines against the two men came as the Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs denied discriminating against the Christian minority by ordering the closure of churches.
Mohamed Aissa had insisted that the churches "did not meet the standards required of a place of worship.
"The institutions that were closed have been closed down because they were built without complying with the regulations of the Republic," he said, noting that the establishments must be closed if a building lacks emergency exits, "even if it is a mosque."
"When a place of worship is built without any notice showing it's a place of worship, which may enable the state to protect it, this place must be closed," he added.
The minister pointed out that the freedom of religion is protected under Algeria's constitution, but he noted that the state is responsible for the religious practice of non-Muslims.
In 2008, 26 churches in Algeria were shut down following the implementation of a 2006 law of regulating non-Muslim worship.
Under the 2006 law, a permit must be obtained before a building can be used for non-Muslim worship, and such activity could only take place in buildings which have been specifically designated for that purpose.