Algeria: Quash conviction of Christian convert and overturn repressive law used to prosecute him

A court of appeal in Algeria has sentenced Christian convert Foudhil Bahloul to a six-month suspended prison term and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars (around 720 dollars) over a 200 Euro transfer deemed an “unauthorized donation” under a discriminatory law used to crack down on religious minorities. Bahloul learnt of the sentence against him on Sunday, after over a week of going to the court to try to find out the status of the appeal case against him.

“Foudhil Bahloul should never have been prosecuted in the first place – nobody should be punished for their religious beliefs or for practising their faith. The appeal court had the opportunity to overturn an unjust conviction and yet instead insisted on a prison sentence, even if suspended. This verdict is a troubling sign of the Algerian authorities’ determination to clamp down on the right to freedom of religion and belief and adds to the growing climate of fear in Algeria, especially for religious minorities, and lays the ground for further rights violations under the pretext of regulating non-Muslim worship under law 06-03,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Since 2107, Algerian authorities have used this law to brazenly persecute religious minorities. It is high time to repeal it and quash all verdicts based on it, including in Foudhil Bahloul’s case.” 

Gendarmerie officers arrested Foudhil Bahloul and three of his friends in Ain Defla in April 2021 before searching his house and seizing books and materials related to the Christian faith. They asked Bahloul 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 while he was in Tunisia.

On 21 July, Bahloul went to trial without a lawyer and witnesses were not allowed to testify before the court in Ain Defla. Based on law 06-03 of 2006 which includes a number of overly broad and vague provisions that criminalize freedom of belief he was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 100,000 Algerian dinars (around US$720). 

Under law 06-03, non-Muslim religious associations must register places of worship, consequently limiting worship to registered sites. The law also outlaws proselytizing among Muslims on behalf of other faiths and dissemination of materials aimed at “shaking the faith of a Muslim.”