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Christian in Algeria Imprisoned for Cartoon on Facebook

A Christian who had received and reposted a cartoon of the prophet of Islam on his Facebook account three years ago was not too concerned when gendarmerie showed up at his door on the 20th of January.

A forty-three-year-old father of four young children had been sentenced to five years in prison under an Algerian law against insulting Muhammad, sources said.

Hamid (surname withheld for security reasons), a poultry farmer in El-Aiyaida, 19 miles east of Oran, had not heard from authorities since reposting the cartoon on his Facebook page in 2018, said Rachid Seighir, pastor of Oratoire Church in Oran, some 250 miles west of Algiers on the Mediterranean coast.

“It is a tragedy for us and for his family,” Pastor Seighir said. “When a member of the Body of Christ is sick, the whole body feels the pain. Brother Hamid was naive in accepting this cartoon on his Facebook account. That this story goes back three years and only now it’s resurfacing – it’s hard to digest.”

Gendarmerie took Hamid into custody for questioning late in the day on Jan. 20 and released him, but he had barely arrived home when he received a call to return, sources said. Returning alone to find out what they wanted, he was detained and spent the night in a jail cell.

The next morning (Jan. 21), a lawyer, Pastor Seighir and other Christians arrived in time to accompany him at a hearing at a court in Arzew, a coastal city in Oran Province, at about 11 a.m. After questioning him about a caricature of Muhammad recorded on his Facebook account with a screenshot by agents from Algeria’s cyber crime unit in 2018, the prosecutor requested he be punished with five years in prison under Article 144 of the penal code against insulting Muhammad.

The judge sentenced him to five years in prison for insulting Muhammad. His attorney told that there is a good chance they can get the sentence reduced on appeal.

Article 144 has been condemned by numerous human rights organizations as a violation of international law. In its report, “Policing Belief,” pro-democracy group Freedom House said the article was commonly used to persecute Christian and allowed “police officials and judges to impose their own religious perspectives on society, and to give at least one version of Islamic practice the force of law.”

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