Christian in Algeria faces prison for Facebook cartoons

(Reuters/Eric Thayer)Algerian laws prohobit defaming Muhammad and Islamic tennets through social media.

A Christian convert in Algeria is facing jail time after a judge convicted him of offending Islam through cartoons posted on his Facebook page.

Samir Chamek, a 33-year-old actor in the northern area of Wilaya de Bouira, had initially been sentenced to five years in prison to go with a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars or an equivalent of US$900 last year. The sentence, however, was reduced to one year, according to a report from Morning Star News.

The report said the ruling was based on Article 44 of the Algerian Penal Code that prohibits any "writing, drawing, statement or any other means" that defames or belittles the prophet Muhammad or any of Islam's precepts.

"I had just been tried without knowing it. The judge of the court, in agreement with the attorney general, condemned me in my absence to five years in prison and to pay a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars, accusing me of having infringed Islam and the person of the prophet," said Chamek in an interview with Morning Star News.

Chamek shared that police officials in Wilaya de Bouira invited him for an interrogation that lasted for five hours, revolving around his Facebook account, before receiving a summon to appear before court. He explained to the authorities that the caricatures found on his social media account had already been in circulation on the Internet for a long time and that he did not create any of it.

"I explained to them that I had no particular interest in them, and if they were there, it was merely mere artistic curiosity, for I love all that is connected with art," Chamek added.

A similar incident in Egypt reported by the Christian Action Network two years ago led to the imprisonment of Bishoy Camille, a Coptic teacher who was charged for contempt of Islam through his drawing of Muhammad, which was also posted on Facebook.

Chamek, who converted to Christianity in 2005, is one of thousands of Christians facing persecution in Algeria. The predominantly Islam nation ranked 36th on 2017 World Watch List by persecution watchdog Open Doors.

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