WASHINGTON, DC (17 August 2023) Hamid Soudad, a Christian-convert and leader in the Evangelical Church of Algeria, has been released from prison following a five-year ordeal. In January 2021, Soudad was arrested, convicted, and sentenced in an expedited trial to five years in prison for allegedly insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad through a cartoon he shared on Facebook in 2018.
“For peaceful expression on social media, Soudad was given a maximum prison sentence following a hasty trial. We are thankful that Soudad was finally released from prison, and hopeful that his case will shed light on the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities in Algeria,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International. ADF International has been advocating for Pastor Soudad’s release since 2021.
Zorzi continued: “No one should be punished, much less imprisoned, for peaceful expression. The international community must continue to advocate for the right of all Algerians to freely share their beliefs and express their ideas without fear of persecution”.
Algeria is home to nearly 43 million people, with 99% of the population identifying as Sunni Muslim. Christians fall into the 1% of religious minorities. Islam is the official state religion, but Algeria’s constitution recognizes the right of all to worship and speak freely. The Algerian government limits religious freedom and expression through the enforcement of laws, including egregious blasphemy and anti-proselytism laws, which intentionally target and violate the religious freedom rights of Christians and other religious minorities.
Algeria’s penal and information codes criminalize blasphemy, with punishments including imprisonment for up to five years and fines. The Criminal Code also censors publications by prohibiting content that is “contrary to Islamic morals”. In particular, the government has systematically cracked down on the Evangelical Protestant Church, of which Pastor Soudad is a member and leader, through church closures and raids.
Violations of the rights of religious minorities are in violation of both international and domestic law. Algeria is a signatory to major human rights treaties, committing it to upholding the rights to freedom of religion and expression.
Governments and the international community have highlighted the ongoing plight of religious minorities in Algeria. USCIRF advised in its 2023 Annual Report that the country be recommended for the State Department’s “Special Watch List” for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom. In 2021, several U.S. Senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling on him to address the increased persecution of religious minorities in Algeria.