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Christian on hunger strike after rejection of conditional release request

by Eno Adeogun

Slimane Bouhafs, who converted to Christianity in 1997, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined £900 in August 7th 2016, after posting on the social media site that 'Jesus overcomes the lies of Islam' alongside a picture of a jihadist killing a Christian.

An appeal saw this sentence reduced to three years and the fine dropped. His family applied for parole, having received a partial presidential pardon on 5th July 2017 which further decreased his sentence by 16 months.

According to Middle East Concern, Mr Bouhafs' family have pleaded with him to end his hunger strike, amid concerns of the effect it will have on his physical and psychological wellbeing.

Mr Bouhafs is demanding to be transferred from a prison in Jijel to one in Bejia, his home province.

He was originally held at Sétif Prison and in October 2016 was transferred to Constantine Prison, where assaults by fellow prisoners prompted his family to request a transfer to Oued Ghir Prison in Bejaia.

Algeria is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. Out of 40.4 million people, around 39,000 are Christians.

Critics claim Mr Bouhafs' sentencing is rooted in the fact that he is also the member of a separatist group which is campaigning for a certain region of Algeria to have independence from the rest.

Algeria is constitutionally declared a Sunni Islamic State and there are cases of people who denounced their Islamic faith being imprisoned, fined, and coerced to re-convert.

Last year, activist Rachid Fodil and friend Hicham Diaf were accused of blaspheming on social media and for writing a song that used several verses of the Quran. Mr Fodil was sentenced to a year in prison, while Mr Daif to six months.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Algeria is a state party, guarantees freedom of expression and opinion. The UN Human Rights Committee, the expert body that interprets the ICCPR, noted in 2011 that "[p]rohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant."

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