By Eric Leijenaar, BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent
ALGIERS, ALGERIA (BosNewsLife) -- Five Christians have been sentenced in Algeria for preaching Christianity, with some of them receiving one year imprisonment, Algerian media reported Tuesday, September 4.
The Christians were reportedly sentenced in June under controversial religious legislation, but sketchy details of the trial, held in the city of Tizi Ouzo, were only released Tuesday, September 4, BosNewsLife monitored.
Algeria's largest daily, El-Khabar, said the sentences vary "between one year sentence with no remission" and one year "suspended sentence" with a 5000 Algerian Dinar ($73) fine.
Names of the Christians were not revealed. One Christian, familiar with the case and speaking on condition of anonymity, said police "trapped" the Christians. "A police officer asked one of the accused about Christianity and requested a Bible," the Christian was quoted as saying.
News of the arrests came after Algeria's Religious Affairs Ministry launched a campaign against Christian proselytizing, reportedly calling on Middle East sheikhs, authorities and non-governmental organizations to try to influence those with a "positive view of Christian proselytizing."
Last year Algeriaâ€™s parliament adopted a law that provides tough prison sentence for those "trying to call on a Muslim to embrace another religion." Commentators said at the time that the law in the North African nation was in response to Christian evangelists and missionary workers who have preached in several parts of the country.
The law would be especially applied to "anyone urging or forcing or tempting, to convert a Muslim to another religion." Christian publishers have been targeted as the same penalties apply to every "person, manufacturer, store or circulate publications or audio-visual [media]" or other communication tools "aiming at destabilizing attachment to Islam."
The law also bans practicing any religion "except Islam" outside "buildings allocated for that" by prior licensing. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has suggested that the aim of the law is to "ban religious activity" and what it called "secret religious campaigns," BosNewsLife monitored.
Christians and Jews comprise up to one percent of Algeria's mainly Sunni Muslim population of 33 million people, according to estimates of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Although Algeria under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has won some praise from the West for backing the US-led "war on terror," and restoring security, the detentions of Christians were expected to underscore concerns among rights campaigners about alleged abuses by security forces. Detained Christians apparently can face difficulties. Human rights group Amnesty International has said that allegations about the torture of detainees continue to be reported.
There has been concerns about ongoing tensions in Algeria following a 1990s struggle involving the military and Islamist militants. In 1992 a general election won by an Islamist party was annulled, leading to a bloody civil war in which more than 150,000 people were reportedly killed.
An amnesty in 1999 led many rebels to lay down their arms, but a state of emergency remains in place. (With BosNewsLife Research and BosNewsLife reporting).
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