The meeting has been organised by the Open Doors Advocacy group, which aims to help persecuted Christians by highlighting their plight. An estimated 25,000evangelical Christians live in Algeria and, although the Algerian constitution states Islam is the state religion, it also provides for freedom of conscience, opinion, expression and assembly.
However, ‘Ordinance 06-03’, which was issued by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2006, regulates religious worship other than Islam and forbids ‘attempts to convert or shake the faith of a Muslim’. Naomi Long MP hosted a Parliamentary briefing on Algeria last October and sponsored an early day motion in Westminster the following month, which to date has had 99signatures added to it.
Mrs Long said although she recognised that progress had been made, she was keen to see further developments towards more openness and freedom of religion and expression.
Speaking before the meeting, she said: “The Algerian Government has made improvements in this area recently, which we recognise and welcome; however, there is a need to continually review this situation to ensure all people are given the right and the freedom to practice their own religion without unnecessary interference.
“I have asked questions of the foreign secretary in the past on this situation and it is important as an international community we keep working with Algeria to encourage that government to develop full religious freedom for its people. Open and tolerant societies, based on internationally recognised rights and freedoms, also tend to be stable and peaceful, which is an additional reason for us to support progress in this direction.”
Mrs Long said the case of Karim Siaghi, who was jailed for five years and fined the equivalent of £1,700 by a court in Oran, west of Algiers, in May 2011 for insulting Muhammad after he gave a Christian CD to a neighbour, was the perfect example of why more religious freedom needs to come to the north African country.
“The judge in this case passed sentence without any witnesses or without any evidencebeing heard, and handed down the maximum sentence available. MustaphaKrim, the president of the Protestant Church of Algeria, said it showed there was no respect for Christianity in Algeria.
“That case is now subject to appeal to the Algerian Supreme Court and their overturning the ruling would be a tangible demonstration of the government’s expressed commitment to freedom of religion and freedom of expression for all its citizens.”