Life of Christian Imprisoned in Algeria for Blasphemy in Danger, Family Fears

Source:  www.morningstarnews.org

Date:  November 29, 2016

Health deteriorating; Muslim inmates threaten to attack him.

By Our Middle East Correspondent
Slimane Bouhafs. (Morning Star News via Facebook)

ISTANBUL, Turkey, November 29, 2016 (Morning Star News) – The daughter of an Algerian Christian sentenced to three years in prison on a charge of blaspheming Islam fears for his life, religious freedom advocates said.
 
Muslim prisoners reportedly planned to beat Slimane Bouhafs, 49, for defending his faith, and his health has faltered due to lack of medical care, the advocates said.
 
Although the date when the assault was set to happen is not publically known, advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) received the first reports about the plans on Nov. 14. A group of inmates planned to attack Bouhafs because he objected to the views of an imam who publically insulted Christians and Christianity in Algeria, MEC’s analyst on religious freedom in Algeria told Morning Star News.
 
“Bouhafs was defending Christianity, calling for more religious freedom and freedom of speech, which provoked the attempted attack,” said the analyst, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
 
An inmate who became aware of the plans warned prison guards, who separated Bouhafs from the inmates who sought to attack him before they could carry it out.
 
Bouhafs was initially imprisoned in a facility in Sétif and then transferred to a prison in Constantine Province, a region in eastern Algeria known for its religious conservatism. Bouhafs’ daughter, Thilleli Bouhafs, has petitioned the government to transfer him to Oued Ghir penitentiary, according to MEC.
 
“His family fears for his life and is reported to have made an application to move him to another prison nearer to his home town,” the MEC analyst said.
 
Bouhafs suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which causes extremely painful swelling of his joints. He controls the swelling by eating a special, controlled diet that is unavailable in jail.
 
“At the end of September when his lawyer saw him, and early in October when his daughter visited him, his daughter reported that he had severely lost weight to a degree where it was hard to recognize him,” the analyst said. “The lawyer said he looked very frail and weak.”
 
Because of Bouhafs’ deteriorating health, his family and the Algerian Human Rights League (LADDH) in October appealed for a pardon from Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, without success.
 
On Nov. 19 the LADDH held a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Justice in support of the pardon appeal. Authorities explained that no officials were available to deal with their demands and ordered them to return another day. LADDH has planned another demonstration for Sunday (Dec. 4).
 
“The ‘support group’ of Bouhafs, which organized the demo, has called for another one on this date,” the analyst said. “The police who asked the demonstrators to go back mentioned to them that there are two days in which the Ministry of Justice accepts public petitions, Sundays and Wednesdays – the fourth of December is a Sunday.”
 
Bouhafs was arrested on July 31 under Article 144 of the Algerian Penal Code for posting a message on Facebook that characterized Islam as a “lie.” Bouhafs, who converted to Christianity from Islam in 1997 and was baptized in 2006, was sentenced on Aug. 7 to five years in prison and fined 100,000 Algerian Dinars (US$900). In September the sentence was reduced on appeal to three years, and the fine was dropped.
 
Article 144 has been condemned by numerous human rights organizations as a violation of international law. In its report, “Policing Belief,” pro-democracy group Freedom House said the article was commonly used to persecute Christian and allowed “police officials and judges to impose their own religious perspectives on society, and to give at least one version of Islamic practice the force of law.”
 
MEC’s specialist on Algeria said the blasphemy law was just one of the ways the Algerian government prosecutes converts from Islam.
 
“Although there are no laws against changing your religion in Algeria, there are several laws which discriminate against Christians in Algeria, especially the Decree of 2006, which governs worship by non-Muslims,” the specialist said. “It limits the ability of Christians to practice their worship, unless in places specially assigned for this purpose. But most important, this law prohibits the ‘shaking of the faith of a Muslim.’ Any discussion with a Muslim about Islam, which may fall under this category, can be punishable.”
 
Algeria ranked 37th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

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