Algerian Christians invite us to rejoice with them in the release from prison of Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian arrested and imprisoned in 2016. He was released on 1 April having served his sentence.
Slimane, aged 51, is from the Kabylie area and chose to convert to Christianity in 1997. He was arrested on 31 July 2016 for publishing material on Facebook which was deemed by the authorities to be insulting to Islam. On 7 August 2016 he was given the maximum sentence for blasphemy of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of approximately $850. In an appeal verdict delivered on 6 September 2016 the prison sentence was reduced to three years and the fine was dropped. On 4 July 2017 a partial presidential pardon led to a further reduction of his prison sentence by 16 months.
The presidential pardon followed an appeal by his lawyers in October 2016 due to Slimane’s critical health needs. He had been serving his prison sentence in Constantine prison, in an area of Eastern Algeria known for its conservative Islamic values, when he was violently attacked by fellow inmates after defending his Christian beliefs following an incendiary sermon delivered by an Imam which had incited hatred towards Christians. Following this attack, and also because of deteriorating health, his family requested a transferred to a prison in his home area. The application was initially turned down but he was subsequently moved to two different prisons.
Algeria’s Constitution established Islam as the State religion, and the Penal Code criminalises blasphemy (insulting the Prophet Muhammad or any messenger from God, or denigrating any of the teachings or precepts of Islam). These and other laws hinders the freedom of Christians to practice their faith and to share religious views with others. In recent months greater enforcement of these laws has resulted in a wave church closures and the arrest and harassment of other Christians.
Algerian Christians ask us to pray:
a. thanking the Lord for Slimane’s release and for protecting, sustaining and encouraging him during his time in prison
b. that Slimane will know the Lord’s healing, restoration and ongoing wisdom as he adapts back to regular routines
c. for other Christians who have recently been charged or convicted under similar laws which hinder freedom of religion
d. that the Algerian authorities will end the systematic campaign against Christians
e. that the regulations governing non-Muslim worship and blasphemy will be amended so that Christians will be able to worship freely
f. that those responsible for arrests and closure orders will know the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness and new life offered by Jesus.