The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has denounced recent court decisions in Algeria violating the religious freedom of Christians.
“Recent decisions by Algerian courts to sentence Christians accused of blasphemy and proselytizing to multi-year prison sentences and to seal protestant churches that have been forcibly closed demonstrates the country is headed in the wrong direction,” said USCIRF Chairperson Nadine Maenza on Wednesday.
On June 6, a court in Oran City sentenced Christian pastor and bookstore owner Rachid Mohamed Seighir to one year in prison for “printing, storing, or distributing materials that can ‘shake’ the faith of a Muslim,” USCIRF noted in its press release.
Two days earlier, an administrative court ordered the “physical sealing” of three Protestant churches in Oran that had been shut down by the government in 2020,” the statement added.
Regarding Algeria’s blasphemy laws, in March the Oran City Court of Justice upheld a five-year prison sentence issued against 42-year-old Christian Hamid Soudad for insulting the Prophet Mohammad.
“These court decisions are blatant attempts to deny Algerian Christians their right to freedom of religion and belief,” said USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie. “We encourage U.S. government officials to attend the appeals for these rulings to demonstrate our firm commitment to religious freedom for Christians and all religious minorities in Algeria.”
In its most recent Annual Report (2021), the USCIRF urged the U.S. State Department to place Algeria on its “Special Watch List” for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).