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Blasphemy case creates turmoil in 'moderate' Algeria

An Algerian Christian sentenced to five years in jail for sharing his faith is still waiting to learn if he will have to serve the time.

That’s because the appeals court judge in the Algerian city of Oran has decided to delay a decision of whether to overturn the conviction given to Karim Siaghi, also known as Siaghi Krimo.

Krimo was sentenced in 2011 to five years in jail and fined about $2,500 after being accused by a Muslim shopkeeper of handing a Christian CD to a man on the street.

In a press statement, Christian human rights group Open Doors says Krimo was charged with blasphemy for simply not “sounding like a Muslim” during a conversation with a shop keeper.

“Authorities arrested Siaghi in April 2011 after he purportedly gave a CD about Christianity to a Muslim. Siaghi had gone to a phone shop to buy airtime minutes for his mobile phone, and the merchant there initiated a conversation on religion,” Open Doors said.

“Unhappy with Siaghi’s non-Muslim answers, the merchant tried to force him to pay homage to the prophet and to recite the Muslim shahada that says there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet,” the Open Doors statement said.

Open Doors says that Algeria is one of the more moderate Arab and North African countries, but that Krimo’s arrest and conviction are an example of the influence jihadists have there.

“When Siaghi refused and said he was a Christian, the merchant filed a complaint that the convert had belittled the prophet, and in the absence of further witnesses, charges were brought against him,” the statement said.

Krimo was arrested and given the five-year term in May 2011 without any witnesses for the prosecution being present.

International Christian Concern’s Middle East analyst Aidan Clay says that the delayed decision may be the result of public pressure. He adds that the public pressure may also work in Krimo’s favor.

“Days prior to the December hearing, a gathering of human right activists, journalists, and concerned Muslims and Christians assembled outside the Ministry of Justice in Algiers demanding that Krimo’s prison sentence be overturned,” Clay said.

“To many Algerians, Krimo’s verdict was viewed not merely as an offense committed against a Christian, but as a direct violation of the human rights of all Algerians,” Clay said.

An Algerian Christian who works with the Protestant church in Algeria and who asked not to be identified for security reasons attended the appeal hearing and said that Krimo faced his accusers for the first time.

“Brother Krimo appeared before the judge of the court of Oran this morning. To the surprise of all, witnesses and accusers who had never appeared before were finally presented,” the Algerian church worker said.

The church worker says the appeal hearing was the first time any known prosecution witnesses appeared.

“Before that, they had given no sign of life. This is the main reason for the result of this trial today. Both witnesses and Krimo were heard. The charges have not changed; Krimo was accused of having blasphemed against the prophet and harmed Islam and proselytize,” the church worker said.

“Krimo has not denied having preached the gospel to both present, but denies having infringed or blaspheming Islam,” the Algerian Protestant church worker said.

The Algerian church official says that Krimo will continue to fight the jail term.

“Krimo was accompanied by his wife Yakout and their daughter 2 years Emmanuelle. The family has decided to fight the battle in perfect union without fear of intimidation from each other,” the church worker said.

“They are not ashamed of the gospel, the power of salvation to everyone who believes, or Jesus Christ the only name that was given to us by which we have salvation,” the church worker said.

“Krimo said that he is willing to go to jail if necessary. He says he preached the gospel in obedience to the Lord of glory, and he will preach again and again,” the Algerian Christian worker said.

Open Doors spokeswoman Emily Fuentes says there is one thing Christians around the world can do to help Krimo’s cause.

“Open Doors is encouraging Christians around the world to pray for this man. A lot is unknown as to what will happen in this situation, whether or not international attention will help in his case,” Fuentes said.

Human rights groups say delayed decisions in religious cases is not unusual in Algeria. Open Doors adds that Algerian courts actually prefer waiting to announce decisions.

“Experts on Algeria‚Äôs treatment of Christians say that Algerian courts customarily have preferred to delay deciding in favor of Christians, so as not to aggravate local Muslim sentiments,” the Open Doors statement said.

“They say judges also have been slow to pronounce final verdicts in order to keep from provoking international criticism over religious freedom,” the statement said.

Open Doors says the judicial practice of making their rulings based on not wanting to offend Muslims is still the policy in spite of the results of last spring’s elections.

WND reported in May that jihad promoting candidates were turned back in their effort to gain power.

Algeria’s 50-year ruling party pulled out an election win and appeared to have turned back a challenge from a strongly jihadist party.