Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced a decree to release 8000 prisoners, some of whom were Christians, in late April.
The presidential mandate served as a goodwill gesture to celebrate the end of Ramadan. One of the pardoned men was Basem, an Algerian Christian pastor who had been imprisoned for a year for””unauthorized Christian worshi””. He had invited another Christian pastor to his home back in 2022. The police raided Basem’ss house and arrested him for conducting religious activities in an unauthorized location.
Christians are a tiny minority in Algeria, comprising 0.3% of the country’s total population of over 45 million. Most of them convert from Islam to Christianity. Sadly, they face discrimination, harassment and pressure to follow the traditions of Islam from family and community members. Authorities put significant pressure on converts to renounce their faith. Several churches were ordered to close, and 16 previously closed church buildings remained sealed in 2022.
Non-Muslim worship is heavily regulated and the laws are designed to crush Christianity. Legislation is vague in order to harass believers. Anything that coul ‘‘shake the faith of a Musli’’ or could be used as a ‘‘means of seduction intending to convert a Muslim to another religion’’ is prohibited. Offenders face prison sentences and financial penalties. Dozens of Christians and other religious minorities have been detained for practising their faith and do not receive legal representation. Lawyers who would take on these cases are discouraged and often threatened.
Basem was fortunate enough to receive representation from an Algerian lawyer who appealed his case to the Supreme Court. His action raised international attention.
McKenna Hammack, the International Christian Concern (ICC) Advocacy Manager for the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) stated:”while we are grateful for the release of Basem and other religious prisoners, we are disappointed that the Algerian government continues to reinforce laws that discriminate against Christians and other religious minorities. We encourage Algeria to hold true to Article 51 of its Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of worship for all people without discriminatio””.