Court hands down fine to Algerian man for importing Christian literature and crucifixes

Representative image: An Algerian man was fined for importing Christian literature and crucifixes.Pixabay/aaandrea

An Algerian court has reportedly upheld a hefty fine against a man who was convicted of importing Christian literature and crucifix-shaped keychains.

Idir Hamdad, a Christian convert from an Islamic background, was reportedly sentenced to six months imprisonment and ordered to pay a 20,000 Algerian dinar (US$172) fine after being found guilty of importing unauthorized items. His lawyer, Sadek Nadjib, noted that Hamdad was convicted and sentenced in absentia in September last year.

Morning Star News reported that the court had rescinded the six-month prison sentence, but upheld the fine.

Nadjib said that he had expected his client to be acquitted due to the lack of supporting evidence for the charges.

"To condemn a Christian...with about 20 keychains, including four or five bearing crucifixes, and six scarves, to be sentenced by the justice of our Algeria following a seizure at customs, is ridiculous in view of Article 365 of the Code of Customs," he told Morning Star News.

He argued that the items in Hamdad's possession were not considered illegal in Algeria.

Hamdad was reportedly stopped by custom officials in Algiers in April 2016 upon his arrival from Jordan, where he acquired the items in question.

"After they opened my luggage, suddenly I found myself surrounded by multitudes of police and customs officers. The customs officer began to gesticulate in all directions to attract attention. And I, still in astonishment, still did not understand what was happening to me," Hamdad told Morning Star News.

He recounted that the officials started asking him numerous questions, such as: "Are you a Christian? Where do you come from? Who gave you these objects? And those Christian books, who gave them to you? Who is it for?"

Hamdad claimed that the officers detained him for eight hours without food and water, and asked him to renounce his faith. He was eventually released after the interrogation, but the items were confiscated.

Pastor Salah Chalah, head of Protestant Church of the Full Gospel of Tizi-Ouzou (EPPETO), believes that the charges against Hamdad are related to a controversial law, commonly known as Law 06/03.

The law, enacted in 2006, mandates a prison sentence of up to five years for those who are found guilty of trying to "undermine the faith of a Muslim."

In March, the Algerian government drew criticism from the Protestant Church of Algeria after two Christians received large fines for possessing Bibles.

Nouredine and Belabbes Khalil were fined 100,000 dinar (US$900) each for transporting 56 Bibles in their car in 2015.

The two men were initially sentenced to two years in prison in 2017 and ordered to pay a 50,000-dinar fine each. The prison sentences were overturned during their appeal in March, but the court doubled the fines.