Algerian authorities must quash the conviction of Christian convert Foudhil Bahloul, under a law that is being used to crack down on religious minorities and restrict the right to freedom of religion and belief, Amnesty International said ahead of his appeal hearing on 27 October.
A court in Ain Defla, a city west of the capital Algiers, had on 21 July sentenced Bahloul to six months imprisonment because of a 200-euro transfer into his bank account deemed an “unauthorized donation” under a discriminatory law regulating non-Muslim worship.
“Algerian authorities must immediately quash Foudhil Bahloul’s conviction and drop all charges against him. He shouldn’t have been tried in the first place. This discriminatory law is being used as a weapon to repress those who do not follow Islam in an assault against their fundamental freedoms,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Instead of targeting non-Islamic believers, Algeria authorities must work on protecting the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief – which includes the freedom to manifest that belief.”
On 17 April, gendarmerie officers arrested Foudhil Bahloul and three of his friends in Ain Defla before searching his house and seizing books and materials related to the Christian faith.
Bahloul told Amnesty International that the officers asked him if he had received money for his beliefs, if those funds came from abroad, and if he had a bank account. They further interrogated him about 200 euros Bahloul said he had received from a friend in Germany as financial support because he was jobless.
Bahloul went to trial without a lawyer and witnesses were not allowed to testify before the court.
Amnesty International reviewed the tribunal’s ruling which was based on Bahloul’s statements on the day of his arrest, in which he acknowledged receiving money from an individual in Germany. The verdict mentioned that Foudhil Bahloul “spread poisonous ideas to the unemployed youth,” and that he “destabilized their faith in Islam” by distributing books. He was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 100,000 Algerian dinars (around US$730).
In March 2021, a court in Oran convicted on appeal a pastor and his friend, also a Christian, for “proselytism”. They were sentenced to a year in prison and fined based on Article 11 of decree law 06-03. The authorities also closed a bookshop the pastor owned.
On 4 June, a tribunal in Oran ordered the closure of three churches for not conforming to restrictive laws’ provisions on association.
In 2017, Amnesty International documented that judicial authorities prosecuted at least 280 individuals from the minority Ahmadi religious movement including on charges of “collecting donations without authorization” based on law 06-03.