Almost nine months after an Algerian court last heard his case, Krimo Siaghi, a Muslim convert to Christianity, finds himself in legal limbo — awaiting a judge’s ruling on his appeal of a five-year prison sentence for “proselytizing” and defaming Islam.
According to the State Department’s 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom, converting from Islam to another religion is not illegal under Algerian law. But Islam is the state religion in Algeria, and Christians, who comprise well under one percent of the population, claim they are persecuted by Islamists and a weak central government that panders to them.
Siaghi, who remains free pending his appeal, said he had gone to his neighborhood telephone shop where a merchant asked him about his religious beliefs.
Siaghi replied that he did not believe in Islam since meeting Jesus Christ, his personal Savior, whereupon the seller demanded he recite the creed for returning to Islam.
When Siaghi refused to renounce his faith, the merchant filed a complaint accusing him of proselytizing and defaming the Prophet Mohammed and Islam, according to Morning Star News, a website that monitors the persecution of Christians around the world.
Siaghi, 33, was arrested on April 14, 2011 in Oran, Algeria’s second largest city. A married father of a toddler, Siaghi said that after his arrest he was threatened by police officers.
“You’re possessed by the devil,” one of the officers shouted at him.
“If you were my brother I’d kill you,” another declared.
Several policemen took turns interrogating Siaghi, who they called a “renegade.”
The judge who handed down the guilty verdict told Siaghi before his court hearing that leaving Islam for another religion was a crime, and “You’ll regret it.”
And, as it turned out, the judge turned out to be much harsher toward the Siaghi than even the prosecutor, who requested the minimum sentence under Article 144 of the Algerian Penal Code: two years’ imprisonment and a fine equivalent to $690. In May 2011, the Christian convert was sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined the equivalent of $2,760.
And now, nine months after his appeal was heard at the Criminal Court of Oran, Siaghi awaits his fate.
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