An Algerian Christian woman, Habiba Qawider, who converted from Islam to Christianity, may face three years’ imprisonment for ‘practising a religion other than Islam without official authorisation’.
Habiba, who is in her 30s, had first been detained by the police on 29 March when they found Bibles and Christian literature in her bag as she travelled on a bus. During her trial on 23 May, the prosecutor apparently claimed that carrying Christian books is tantamount to practising Christianity – which, under the new regulations for non-Muslim worship of 2006, is only legal in government-approved places of worship.
Four other Algerian Christians have already been given suspended jail terms and fines for worshipping illegally. One man, a computer technician, received a six-month suspended jail sentence and a fine of £1600. Three others got lighter penalties – two-month suspended jail terms and £800.
The men admitted they had converted to Christianity but rejected the charge that they were holding an illegal religious ceremony when they were arrested. At least two other high-profile trials of Christian converts are ongoing.
There are an estimated 10,000 Christians in the largely Muslim country of 33 million. A 2006 law forbids non-Muslims from trying to convert Muslims and limits religious worship to specific buildings approved by the state – a clause that has been used to close more than a dozen churches in the past six months.