TIZI-OUZOU, Algeria, February 1, 2021 (Morning Star News) – A Christian who had received and reposted a cartoon of the prophet of Islam on his Facebook account three years ago was not too concerned when gendarmerie showed up at his door on Jan. 20.
By the next day, the 43-year-old father of four young children had been sentenced to five years in prison under an Algerian law against insulting Muhammad, sources said.
Hamid (surname withheld for security reasons), a poultry farmer in El-Aiyaida, 19 miles east of Oran, had not heard from authorities since reposting the cartoon on his Facebook page in 2018, said Rachid Seighir, pastor of Oratoire Church in Oran, some 250 miles west of Algiers on the Mediterranean coast.
“It is a tragedy for us and for his family,” Pastor Seighir said. “When a member of the Body of Christ is sick, the whole body feels the pain. Brother Hamid was naive in accepting this cartoon on his Facebook account. That this story goes back three years and only now it’s resurfacing – it’s hard to digest.”
Hamid’s four children are 6, 4, 3 and 3 months, and his wife is dejected and dismayed, especially since one of the children is seriously ill, the pastor added.
Gendarmerie took Hamid into custody for questioning late in the day on Jan. 20 and released him, but he had barely arrived home when he received a call to return, sources said. Returning alone to find out what they wanted, he was detained and spent the night in a jail cell.
The next morning (Jan. 21), a lawyer, Pastor Seighir and other Christians arrived in time to accompany him at a hearing at a court in Arzew, a coastal city in Oran Province, at about 11 a.m. After questioning him about a caricature of Muhammad recorded on his Facebook account with a screenshot by agents from Algeria’s cybercrime unit in 2018, the prosecutor requested he be punished with five years in prison under Article 144 of the penal code against insulting Muhammad.
Pastor Seighir said he and the attorney encouraged Hamid to have the hearing adjourned as Algerian law allows counsel a week to prepare a defense. Eager to return home and believing he would be able to do so after the hearing, Hamid asked to go before the judge the same day, and he did so at 2 p.m. along with his attorney, even though she had no time to prepare.
The judge sentenced him to five years in prison for insulting Muhammad. His attorney told Morning Star News there is a good chance they can get the sentence reduced on appeal.