- Two Algerian Christians were each handed a (British Pounds) £800 fine and six-month suspended jail terms yesterday, after Algerian court found them guilty of unlawfully trying to convert Muslims to their faith.
According to their lawyer, Khelloudja Khalfoun, convicts, Rachid Mohammed Seghir, 40, and Jammal Dahmani, 36, were sentenced for distributing documents that aimed at weakening the faith of Muslims.
The first respondent, Mr Seghir was also convicted of same offence, in a separate trial in June, in Tiaret town, where he received same sentence.
Ms Khalfoun told media after leaving courthouse in Tissemsilt, some 150 miles southwest of Algerian capital, Algiers that they were likely to appeal.
"The accusations were not proven, and the court's decision is not justified," she reportedly said.
The lawyer said her clients who are both Evangelical Protestants were first prosecuted in 2007, when extracts from Bible and other Christian books were found in one of their cars, during a routine check.
They were reportedly charged for 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 population, according to United States government estimates.
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 $15,570 fine, for anyone trying to incite a Muslim to convert to another faith.
President of Association of Algerian Protestant churches, Mustapha Krim, was reported yesterday as saying the verdict was "scandalous", because it infringes on people's freedom of opinion.
Mr Krim is reported to have called on 2006 decree, "to be radically changed so that Christians in Algeria can live their faith freely and serenely, like Muslims."
He told media that more than half-dozen court cases currently target Protestants in Algeria.
Algeria's constitution also allows freedom of conscience but a 2006 law strictly regulates how religions can be practised and forbids non-Muslims from seeking to convert Muslims.
Worried by recent state-ordered closures of some churches and prosecutions for proselytism, Christian groups overseas and Algerian liberals have said government appears to have launched a campaign of persecution against minority Christians.
Most of country's Christian colonial settler population of up to one million fled shortly after independence from France in 1962.
In a case that stirred further concern in the West, the prosecutor at Tiaret court last month demanded a three-year jail term for an Algerian woman, kindergarten teacher Habiba Kouider, on a charge of "practicing a non-Muslim religion without authorisation". Her case continues.
Government has however denied persecuting Christians, with state-appointed Higher Islamic Council, which regulates religious practice, saying Protestant evangelicals are secretly trying to divide Algerians to colonise the country.
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