• NORTH AFRICA \ Jun 12, 2008
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    Algeria Muslim body slams Christian evangelists
Algeria Muslim body slams Christian evangelists "This is a new form of colonization that is hidden behind freedom of worship," said Chikh, whose body regulates religious practice in the former French colony.

"The evangelist movement is characterized by a secret activity that violates the Koran and the Sunna in one way or another," he said, referring to Islam's holy book and Islamic practice based on words and deeds of the Prophet.


Christian groups overseas accused the overwhelmingly Muslim Mediterranean country of religious repression after a Muslim woman in her mid-30s appeared in court this month accused of "practising a non-Muslim religion without authorisation".

Critics, including some of Algeria's liberal French-language dailies, said the woman, Habiba Kouider, was breaking no law simply by practising her religion and added that the constitution guaranteed individual religious freedom.

The state prosecutor demanded she be jailed for three years.

The case, which continues, follows state-ordered closures of several churches under a law passed in 2006 that limits non-Muslim worship to specific buildings approved by the state.

Algeria is almost totally Muslim. According to officials, less than 10,000 Christians, including expatriates, live in the country of 33 million. Most of its Christian colonial settler population fled shortly after independence from France in 1962.

Secular liberals suspect tightening curbs on Christian activity is a headline-grabbing tactic to pander to Islamists and divert attention from a worsening economic situation.

But Chikh said in the case of Kouider Algeria was concerned to ensure respect for a provision in the 2006 law that forbids non-Muslims from seeking to convert Muslims.

"This law requires that Christians and Muslims are to exercise their religious rites in full transparency in a place reserved for that purpose and belonging to an accredited religious institution," Chikh added.

"There is no movement opposed to Christians as alleged by some tendentious minds. It is only about respecting Islam in a Muslim country, just as one must respect the Christian religion in a Christian State." (Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; editing by William Maclean and Mary Gabriel)