Many Christian communities find themselves under siege in a number of Middle East and North African countries, persecuted for their religion, and targets of attacks in real life.
But the internet is not exactly safe for them, either, especially for those who think they are free to express themselves on social media sites like Facebook. In Algeria, a 43-year-old Christian man has been sentenced to five years in prison for a post shared on the platform in 2018, containing a cartoon depiction of Islamic prophet Muhammad.
It is not clear from reports what the imagery showed, but they say that it took local police and judiciary only a couple of days last month to declare the photo blasphemous and lock up this Facebook user.
The man, who converted to Christianity from Islam in 2001 and has four young children, was questioned by police over his 2018 post in late January of this year, and then given the maximum sentence for “blasphemy” several days later by a court in the town of Arzew. This is according to Barnabas Fund, which assists persecuted Christians.
The man, who has not been named, is not the only Christian who has been jailed and fined on similar charges of blasphemy, the Fund said. Algeria is 99 percent Muslim, and has Islam enshrined in its Constitution as the official state religion. Other religions are allowed – on condition of not “offending or insulting any religion,” which is criminalized.
While the country’s Christian community – consisting of diverse denominations, including Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox – is small, it is growing, and includes mostly converts from Islam and members of their families.
Converting to another religion is in itself not a crime in Algeria, but any activity that might be interpreted as “seduction tending to convert a Muslim” is. Algerian authorities at times go after Christians precisely on these charges, of “inciting” Muslims to change their religion. Such accusations emerged in 2018 against a group of five people, whom a woman accused of trying to “convince” her to leave Islam after her husband did the same.
The multi-year prison sentences and fines, even for “crimes” involving sharing a picture on Facebook, are seen as a form of pressure against the Christian community.