Christians in Algeria face jail for 'blasphemy'

AIN TURK, ALGERIA - Three Christians in Algeria face three years in prison and a 500 euro fine for allegedly committing blasphemy against Islam.

At a court hearing in Ain Turk, Algeria, Youssef Ourahmane, Rachid Seghir and Hamid Ramdani were accused by the public prosecutor of "insulting Islam, its prophet and threatening the former professing Christian that complained against them".

The three men were given their sentence of three years in prison and a 500 euro fine earlier in the year by a lower court. However they were not present when their sentences were pronounced and they made an appeal on 15 July 2008. The appeal court then postponed their hearing to 21 October 2008, reports International Christian Concern (ICC).

The case was raised with the help of a fourth man, Shamouma Al-Aid, who converted to Christianity from Islam for a short time, and attended a Bible school.

However, according to Compass Direct News, Al-Aid continued his relationship with radical Muslims during his time as a Christian before "re-converting" back to Islam.

Al-Aid claims that the three men insulted both Islam and the prophet Mohammed and that they threatened him when he "re-converted" to Islam.

After hearing the arguments of both parties the judge scheduled 29 October as the date on which the case would be decided.

Jonathan Racho, ICC's Regional Manager for Africa, said, "As a member of the international community, the Algerian government has the obligation to respect the freedom of religion of its Christian minorities. It is time for Algerian officials to carry out their obligations by ceasing to interfere with freedom of worship of the country's Christian minorities."