Authorities in northwest Algeria have convicted a Christian man from a Muslim background of blasphemy and sentenced him to five years in prison for the charge, the Christian aid agency Barnabas Fund reported on Thursday.
Police in the port city of Arzew summoned the 43-year-old man for questioning on January 20 after he was accused of “insulting the prophet of Islam” by sharing a cartoon image of Muhammad on his Facebook account in 2018. Arzew authorities tried and found the man guilty for blasphemy days later, assigning him a maximum five-year prison sentence for the crime.
The man, whose name was not reported by Barnabas, “converted to Christianity in 2001 and is married with four young children,” according to the agency, which supports Christians who suffer discrimination for their faith.
“Algerian Christians requested prayer for the man and others convicted of similar charges of blasphemy including two Christian converts from Islam in the northern Kabylie region who received sentences of six months and three years respectively, along with fines of £272 ($375) and £1,379 ($1,900),” Barnabas reported.
Algeria’s constitution declares Islam as the state religion. It prohibits Algerian state institutions from behaving in a manner “incompatible with Islam.” The law in Algeria “grants all individuals the right to practice their religion if they respect public order and regulations. Offending or insulting any religion is a criminal offense,” according to the U.S. State Department.
Algeria is 99 percent Sunni Muslim, though a small population of Christians is reportedly growing in the north African country, according to Barnabas. The minority population, estimated to be up to 90,000, consists mainly of converts from Islam and their children. Proselytizing to Muslims by non-Muslims is considered a crime in Algeria, however, meaning people who convert Muslims to Christianity are at risk of prosecution by the state.
Authorities in Algeria’s Bouira province charged five Christians with “inciting a Muslim to change his religion” and “performing religious worship an unauthorized place” in October 2018. The charges came after a Muslim woman accused the group of proselytism earlier that same year shortly after they converted her husband to Christianity. She claimed that the group had taken her to a Christian church and tried to convince her to leave Islam.
Algeria’s Christian community includes “Roman Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, members of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), Lutherans, the Reformed Church, Anglicans, and an estimated 1,000 Egyptian Coptic Christians,” according to U.S. State Department estimates, though the community is predominately Protestant Christian.