Not Free to Believe; Where Converting is Criminal

Where Becoming A Christian Equals Criminal

In some countries, choosing to leave a religion to become a Christian can land you in jail.

At least 22 countries criminalize apostasy, or leaving a religion. Additional countries punish evangelizing and proselytizing.

In March, these laws came under scrutiny at a panel held during the UN Human Rights Council.

“Free to Convert, Practice, and Profess” focused on violations of freedom of religion or belief in three countries with sizable Christian populations: Algeria, India, and Nepal.

These countries’ anti-conversion laws punish people for changing religions. The laws outlaw undefined “inducement” or “fraud,” require people first give notice or get permission from the government and impose greater penalties on women and the poor.

The laws are usually only enforced when people leave a majority religion (Hindu, Buddhism or Islam) for a minority religion.

In Algeria, the penal code and other ordinances strictly prohibit acts of peaceful evangelism and any speech or acts which can be considered blasphemous; meanwhile, 20 churches have been closed by police.

In April 2021, Christian convert Foudhil Bahloul was arrested and some of his possessions were seized during a police raid of his home. He was formally charged with distributing Bibles to allegedly “spread poisonous ideas to the unemployed youth”. He was sentenced to six months in prison.

A few months later in June, Algerian authorities arbitrarily shut down Oratoire Church in Oran City and arrested its pastor, Rachid Seighir, and Christian bookstore clerk, Nouh Hamini, for “distributing publications or any other propaganda undermining the faith of a Muslim”.

Each was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Their sentences were commuted to one-year sentences on appeal.

Mr. Youssef Ourahmane, Vice President of the Algerian Protestant Church testified at the event, “Actually, just yesterday we had some sad news that Pastor *** with three others has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for encouraging people to protest [unlawful church closures].”