ALGIERS, Algeria – Two converts to Christianity were convicted Wednesday of illegally promoting their faith in Muslim Algeria and handed suspended sentences and fines, their lawyer said.
Rachid Mohammed Seghir, 40, and Jammal Dahmani, 36, were sentenced for “distributing documents that aimed at weakening the faith of Muslims,” lawyer Khelloudja Khalfoun said.
“It’s very likely we will appeal,” she told The Associated Press by telephone after leaving the courthouse in Tissemsilt, some 150 miles southwest of Algiers.
“The accusations were not proven, and the court’s decision is not justified,” she said.
Each defendant was given a six-month suspended sentence and a fine of 100,000 dinars ($1,560).
Both are evangelical Protestant Christians and first were prosecuted when extracts from the Bible and other Christian books were found in one of their cars in 2007 during a routine check.
They were charged with proselytizing, or trying to spread their faith among Muslims, as well as praying in a building that had not been granted a religious permit by authorities.
Only a tiny fraction of Algeria’s 34 million people are not Muslim, with Christians and Jews comprising up to 1 percent of the population, according to a U.S. government estimate.
Algeria’s constitution allows freedom of worship. But a decree approved by parliament in February 2006 strictly regulates how religions other than Islam can be practiced.
The text is viewed as primarily targeting Protestant faiths, which have become increasingly active in Algeria. It provides for jail sentences of up to five years and a euro10,000 ($15,570) fine for anyone trying to incite a Muslim to convert to another faith.
The president of the Association of Algerian Protestant churches, Mustapha Krim, said Wednesday’s verdict was “scandalous” because it infringes on people’s freedom of opinion.
Krim called on the 2006 decree “to be radically changed so that Christians in Algeria can live their faith freely and serenely, like Muslims.”
He told the AP that more than a half-dozen court cases currently target Protestants in Algeria.