By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ALGIERS, ALGERIA (BosNewsLife)– Five Algerian Christians remained jailed in north-eastern Algeria Tuesday, November 1, after they were reportedly detained this weekend for “worshiping in an unregistered location.”
Another Christian, a minor, was released and placed on probation following Saturday’s raid in a village near the town of Bougous in north-eastern El Tarf province bordering Tunisia, news reports said.
International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group investigating the case, told BosNewsLife that the five Christians still being held are charged with “proselytizing”, a word used for evangelism,”unauthorized worship”, and “insulting Islam.”
ICC said the Christians appeared in front of a court Sunday, October 31, with more procedures expected within the coming days.
Algerian news reports said the Christians are affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), though their affiliation has not yet been confirmed by the organization.
In July, Algeria’s government reportedly authorized the EPA to apply for official registration, but “many congregations” have not yet begun the process of registration and continue to worship in secret, ICC said.
The arrests were made under legislation introduced in 2006 to regulate the worship of non-Muslims by requiring churches to obtain government permission to hold services, Christians said.
It also states that Christians must worship in recognized buildings, not houses or apartments.
ICC said the latest detentions in the North African nation occurred days before the hearing of Siagh Krimo, an Algerian Christian who is to appear in an appeals court in the northwestern city of Oran on November 3.
Krimo was briefly jailed on April 14 after allegedly speaking about his Christian faith with a neighbor, according to several Christians and rights activists. If his verdict stands, Krimo will be given a five year prison sentence for blasphemy, trial observers said.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, noted that “While progress was made earlier this year when the Algerian government permitted the EPA to apply for registration” provincial authorities “are undermining that decision by detaining Christians on baseless charges and denying congregations their…right to worship freely.”
He told BosNewsLife in a statement that his group had urged officials in El Tarf “to release the five Christians still in prison.”Additionally, he said, “we call for the acquittal of Siagh Krimo in Oran whose prison term may be enforced as early as Thursday.”
Algeria’s government has denied wrongdoing. It says its policies is mainly aimed at evangelists’ attitudes that “violate Islamic” values.
The Protestant Church reportedly claims to have tens of thousands of followers spread across dozens of congregations. Christians officially comprise less than one percent of the predominantly Islamic nation of nearly 35 million people, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).