In a major win for religious freedom, Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian Christian who has spent the last 18 months in prison for "insulting Islam and its prophet Muhammad," has been released.
"Finally my father ... has been allowed back to us," Bouhafs' daughter, Tilelli, wrote on her Facebook page on Easter Saturday. "Thank you for your support."
According to persecution watchdog World Watch Monitor, Tilelli and her mother had been on their way to visit the imprisoned Christian when he called, saying that he had been released and was about to take a taxi home. Tilelli reportedly told him to wait, after which they picked him up and travelled home together.
"I am filled with joy to be reunited with my family, who have suffered tremendously," Bouhafs was reported as saying. "It was too much... I suffered a terrible injustice. I did not hurt anyone, I did not kill anyone. I was deprived of my freedom unfairly."
He added that he had "seen unbearable things in prison" and thanked people from all over the world for sending him letters of support.
Bouhafs, 51, a convert from Islam, was arrested on July 31, 2016 after publishing Facebook posts about the light of Jesus overcoming the "lie" of Islam and its prophet. He also posted photos showing the execution of a civilian by an Islamist terrorist.
At the time, his daughter stressed that her father had only shared someone else's posts on Facebook, adding: "I wonder why there is this rage against my father, who did not have a high profile on Facebook."
Bouhafs was officially sentenced to three years in prison by an appeals court in the Muslim majority country. The court's judgement said Bouhafs had "shared four distorted Koranic verses and photos offensive to the Prophet, as well as articles denigrating the Islamic religion."
WWM notes that during his incarceration, Bouhafs spent time in three different prisons, where his health deteriorated due to his inflammatory rheumatism, a disease that worsens under stress and requires a special diet. He also reportedly suffered aggression from his fellow prisoners because of his Christian faith.
Bouhafs' imprisonment sparked protests, with human rights groups calling for a change to the law that punishes anyone deemed to have insulted Muhammad or "denigrated the dogma or precepts of Islam."
According to Said Salhi, vice-president of Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH), the verdict was "part of an escalation" and a result of "abusive" use of article 144 (bis) of the Algerian law.
Bouhafs is chairman of the St. Augustine Coordination of Christians in Algeria, which upholds religious liberty in the country. He is also a part of the Movement for Self-Determination of Kabylia.
Algeria ranks 42nd on Open Door USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Notes the outlet: "Christians in Algeria suffer from various restrictions and challenges imposed by both the state and society. Laws regulating non-Muslim worship, banning conversion and prohibiting blasphemy make proselytizing and public expression of the Christian faith dangerous. Even casual conversations between friends and family members regarding faith can be grounds for blasphemy charges."