Ex-Muslims Jammal Dahmani, 36, and 40-year-old Rachid Mohammed Seghir, whose last name is also spelled as Essaghir, were sentenced for distributing literature "offensive" to the Muslim faith, said Mustapha Krim, who leads the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA).

The court in the town of Tissemsilt, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) southwest of the capital
Algiers found both men "guilty of distributing documents aimed at weakening the faith of Muslims," added their lawyer, Khelloudja Khalfoun.

Thy were originally jailed in absentia for two years and fined around $7,850 dollars each. However after the court heard their case again in their presence, as Algerian law allows, the Christians were ordered to pay around $1,570 and received six-month suspended jail sentences.


Yet, "It’s very likely we will appeal," Khalfoun told reporters, after leaving the courthouse. "The accusations were not proven, and the court’s decision is not justified," she said.

In brief published remarks, Seghir made clear he would continue to preach the Gospel. "We are disappointed by the verdict but we are not ashamed of our faith" (in Christ), he stressed.

Observers say there has been an upsurge of such cases since a controversial law was passed in February 2006 requiring non-Muslim congregations to seek permits from regional authorities. On June 3, four Christians were reportedly given suspended sentences for "illegally practising a non-Muslim cult."

One of the four received a six-month suspended sentence with a roughly $3,100 fine, while the others got two months suspended jail terms and a 1,570-euro fine each. In a separate case, another Christian convert, 37-year-old Habiba Kouider, is to appear before a court
a second time after being caught carrying Bibles amid an ongoing investigation.


Dozens of places used for Christian worship have also been closed down, according to local Christians and right groups.

The EPA has demanded an end to the 2006 law as it allegedly violates the constitutional freedom of religion. The government has so far rejected these demands, saying the new religious law aimes to preserve the Islamic identity of the country.

Algeria had up to one million Christians before its independence from France in 1962, but today counts just 11,000, according to the ministry for religious affairs. However the EPA has said Algerian churches have been growing rapidly from a few hundred believers in the early 1980s to tens of thousands now.


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