On 6th June, Pastor Rachid Seighir and Nouh Hamami will find out whether they will go to prison. Their crime? Selling books. The pair have been running a bookshop that contains books which are considered to ‘shake the faith of Muslims’. In Algeria, this comes with a heavy potential cost – and the two men are waiting to hear if their appeal against a two-year prison sentence has been successful.
Pastor Rachid leads the Oran City church (L’Oratoire) and also owns a book and stationery shop, where Nouh Hamami works as a salesman. The bookshop was raided in September 2017, and the police found Christian books (including Bibles) and printing machines. An article in the law regulating non-Muslim worship criminalises ‘… producing, storing, or disseminating printed documents, audiovisuals, or using any other means with the intent to shake the faith of a Muslim’.
In February, Pastor Rachid and Nouh were convicted of ‘proselytising’ and sentenced to two years in prison and issued with a fine. Their appeal was heard on 16 May.
Following the raid, the Governor of Oran ordered that the bookshop be closed. Though this closure order has been deemed flawed by a court, the bookshop has still not been allowed to reopen.
This isn’t the first time that Pastor Rachid has been in trouble with the authorities. In 2008, another raid led to his conviction under the same charges – though he was acquitted on appeal.
Blasphemy convictions appear to be rising in Algeria, and in the past few months two other Christians have received prison sentences under these laws. In recent years, authorities in Algeria have targeted EPA churches (Protestant Church of Algeria), and 13 have been forced to close by the authorities. Others have received orders to cease all activities. It’s also illegal to use anything as ‘a means of seduction intending to convert a Muslim to another religion’ – which, in practice, is difficult to define and therefore open to abuse.
There are some signs of hope for Christians in Algeria. The country fell seven places (to number 24) in the most recent Open Doors World Watch List, largely because substantially fewer incidents of violence against Christians were reported. On the other hand, churches that have been forced to close remain closed, and so the impact of previous years’ persecution is still being felt.
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