In Oran, 470 kilometers west of Algiers, a criminal court in the city’s Djamel district on May 25, 2011 sentenced Siaghi Krimo to a prison term of five years for giving a CD about Christianity to a neighbour who subsequently claimed he had insulted Muhammad. Krimo was also fined 200,000 Algerian dinars (US$2,760), according to Algerian news reports.
The prosecutor had reportedly requested the judge sentence him to a two-year prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars (US$690).
The court tried Krimo based solely on the complaint filed by his neighbour, who accused him of attempting to convert him to Christianity.
“He gave a CD to a neighbour, and for that he has to spend five years in prison,” said the president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), Mustapha Krim, trying to contain his disbelief. “The hearing went well, and the lawyer defended well, yet in the end the judge gave him the maximum punishment.”
Authorities arrested Krimo on April 14 and held him in jail for three days. On May 4 he appeared before the court in Djamel, where the prosecutor requested the two-year sentence in the absence of the neighbour who had accused him – the only witness – and any evidence.
The punishment the prosecutor requested is the minimum for Algerians found guilty of insulting Muhammad or “the messengers of God,” or anyone who “denigrates the dogma or precepts of Islam, be it via writings, drawings, statements or any other means,” according to Article 144 of the Algerian Penal Code.
Krim said that if the courts start interpreting the law as it did in Krimo’s case, then the future of Algeria’s Christians is grim.
“If they start applying the law like that, it means there is no respect for Christianity,” Krim said, “and pretty soon all the Christians of Algeria will find themselves in prison. If the simple fact of giving a CD to your neighbour costs five years in prison, this is catastrophic.”
The court delivered its verdict the same week that the governor of the province of Bejaia ordered the closing of seven Protestant churches.
Asked if he thought the court had instructions from higher officials to hand down such heavy punishment to Krimo, Krim responded with no hesitation: “It’s certain!”
Algerian Christian Sentenced Beyond Prosecutor’s Request (CDN 30.5.11)