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Algerian Protesters Call for Release of Christian Human Rights Activist Jailed for Insulting Islam on Facebook

Crowds gathered in the Algerian city of Tizi Ouzou on Oct. 29 to call on authorities to release Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian human rights activist who was jailed in July for allegedly insulting Islam and Muhammad.
Slimane Bouhafs Facebook/Slimane Bouhafs

Crowds gathered in the Algerian city of Tizi Ouzou on Oct. 29 to call on authorities to release Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian human rights activist who was jailed in July for allegedly insulting Islam and Muhammad.

The protesters, led by a civil society group, also demanded that Bouhafs be given medical treatment for his health problems, according to World Watch Monitor.

Bouhafs was arrested on July 31 for Facebook posts that were said to have insulted Islam and the prophet Muhammad. He was charged with "denigrating the creed and precepts of Islam" and "offending the Prophet" under Article 144 bis 2 of the Algerian Penal Code and was sentenced to five years in prison on Aug. 7.   

One of his posts on Facebook that offended the Muslims was about the light of Christ defeating the "lie" of Islam and its prophet. He also reportedly posted photos of Jihadists executing a civilian, Smyrna Ministries International said.

The protesters also urged authorities to review Algeria's blasphemy laws, under which anybody accused of insulting Islam or Muhammad could be punished indiscriminately. Although Islam is the state religion, the Constitution allows religious freedom for people of other faiths.

Bouhafs was not given a chance to see a lawyer during his pre-trial detention, during the interrogation and during the trial itself. His family was also kept from visiting him and was only allowed to visit him once in August, according to a report from Amnesty International.

In September, the 49-year-old activist appealed his sentence. The court responded by dropping the fine, but it said he still must spend the next three years in prison.

His family sought a presidential pardon last month.

"We have decided to seek a presidential pardon, instead of appealing to the Supreme Court. This is our last resort and the only possible solution to set my father free," Slimane's daughter Thilleli said, according to Smyrna Ministries International.

Thilleli said her father has lost about half of his weight just two months after he was taken into custody. She also said her father, who has inflammatory rheumatism, needs a specific diet that he can't get in prison, which further aggravates his health.

"My father is in a critical condition because of his illness. He suffers from inflammatory rheumatism, and needs a specific diet which is impossible to get in prison," Thilleli said. "He drinks only coffee and has lost a lot of weight in this short time since his detention."

Bouhafs' daughter expressed bafflement that her father's post caught so much attention when "he did not have a high profile on Facebook." Bouhafs claimed his posts were only about radical Islam and terrorism, not Islam as a whole.

The human rights group Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights called Bouhafs' incarceration an "attack" on freedom of conscience and worship. The group is working to "alert public opinion and defenders of liberties" about attacks on religious freedom.

Bouhafs is chairman of the St. Augustine Coordination of Christians in Algeria, which upholds religious liberty in the country. He is also a part of the Movement for Self-Determination of Kabylia. Smyrna Ministries International urges believers to pray for his release.

Tags : Slimane Bouhafs, Algeria, Algeria religious freedom, Algeria blasphemy laws, blasphemy, blasphemy laws, Religious Freedom, Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, St. Augustine Coordination of Christians in Algeria, Movement for Self-Determination of Kabylia, Smyrna Ministries International, Algeria state religion, Human Rights