Algerian Christian Slimane Bouhafs was released from prison in 2018 after serving nearly two years for blasphemy, but after his release he experienced such persecution that he fled to Tunisia, where threats to his life continue.
Slimane (54) received a refugee card six months ago but is still waiting to be assigned a new country. His family remains in Algeria and he is alone in Tunisia. Slimane’s daughter got married on 2 April, and he missed the wedding. He told Morning Star News in tears, “My daughter who gave so much to me, who has always supported me, she is getting married without me being able to be by her side. It is a very great pain that I am suffering.”
Slimane is a former Muslim who became a Christian in 1999 and was arrested in 2016 for posting a Facebook message about the light of Jesus overcoming the “lie” of Islam. He suffered severe ill health in prison and was under constant threat from radical Islamist prisoners. “When I was in prison, I suffered a lot,” he said. “I even came close to death after being poisoned. I suffered doubly from my disease [inflammatory rheumatism] and stress.”
Release from prison did not mean an end to Slimane’s trouble. He told Morning Star News, “Hateful people still wanted my life. Once I found two tyres on our car gutted with a knife. I was getting threatening phone calls. I registered the numbers and filed a complaint, but the prosecutor did not care; no follow-up.”
The government cut off Slimane’s disability benefit (he had to give up his job as a security guard in 1999, having worked as a policeman from 1990 to 1994). “For 19 years I usually received my due, but since my release, nothing,” he explained. “The Algerian Islamist state stole part of my life and even my salary. I was left without a penny.”
Slimane fled to Tunisia in October 2018, where he says he has been threatened repeatedly by phone and on social media. “Honestly, I’m stuck – I am as scared here as I was in Algeria,” he told Morning Star News. “I am as threatened here as I was in my country.”
He described an incident in which three motorbike riders, one of whom had an Algerian accent, accosted him on a crowded street: “They asked for my papers with threats. I gave them my papers and told them I was a refugee. After taking a look, they handed them to me. It was then that they insulted me and threatened me without anyone intervening. I went straight to the police station to file a complaint. Unfortunately, there at the police station I was more mistreated. After finding articles on Google and finding out that I am a Christian and had been in jail accused of undermining Islam, the agents stood up against me, and they also insulted and mistreated me. I could only leave the premises forgetting the complaint.”
Slimane filed for asylum with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in November 2018, but his case was held up by several administrative delays, he said, adding: “During that period, I was very ill to the point where I was admitted to the hospital for eleven days. I was experiencing indescribable anguish and stress. I only thought of one solution, suicide. I was given treatment which allowed me to resume.”
Slimane received occasional visits from family members, but the coronavirus pandemic has closed the borders and he is now isolated. Following publication of his case in an Algerian newspaper in June 2020, Slimane was able to obtain a refugee card in October, but says, “Honestly, I do not understand why they do not let me go, why I do not have my ticket, when countries have agreed to receive me. I find that unfair and humiliating. I ask that the authorities concerned act quickly, without further delay, to allow me to reach a country of asylum, and that my family can join me.”
Trouble following conversion
Slimane’s family comprises his wife, a son aged thirty and two daughters aged 28 and 19. His elder daughter, Thilleli, told Morning Star News about the trouble that followed her father’s conversion. “My mother is a Muslim, but she suffered a lot because of my father’s conversion,” she said. “He had been threatened by several people. Once he was assaulted by an individual with a knife, in 2003. The case took several years in court, but with no positive outcome. Even the investigating judge mistreated my father at every hearing. “
Thilleli said a group of Muslims in their village began talking about killing him for abandoning Islam. “Our family was totally isolated,” she said. “After that, we were forced to flee to settle in town, in Béjaia. It lasted three years.”
Faith in Christ
Slimane has described how his journey to faith in Christ began with caring for a terrorist. He had enlisted in the police force in 1990, just before the outbreak of civil war between the government and Islamist rebels, in which an estimated 260,000 people died.
“I loved my country, and I wanted to fight terrorism to save my country,” he said. “In 1994, we arrested an Islamist terrorist whom I took care of, treating and feeding him because I felt sorry for him then. My talks with this person changed my life and my convictions as the Muslim that I was. What I saw and heard in this person, added to that all the victims slaughtered, burned and killed by the terrorists, had pushed me towards the door to leave this religion. Since that year, I no longer wanted Islam, or rather Islamism.”
In 1998, Slimane accompanied a friend to visit a Roman Catholic priest, who gave him books of testimonies of people who had encountered Christ, and later he obtained a Bible. He put his faith in Christ in 1999 and began to attend a Protestant church.
“My soul finally found the peace I so longed for, but at the same time a storm broke out against me,” Slimane told Morning Star News. “All of the society I lived in had suddenly risen up against me. I was persecuted on all sides; I felt unwanted everywhere. Not just me, but even my children and my wife had to endure persecution, even though they did not join me in my Christian faith. But to these pains was added the joy of seeing many people from the region agree to follow me to become Christians. For me, it was a great victory.”
However, the pressure nearly led to the break-up of Slimane’s marriage. “Because of my faith, my poor wife suffered,” he said. “I went to the gendarmerie station in Bou Salem on several occasions to lodge a complaint against all these attacks, but the gendarmerie did not respond. They did nothing. “
In July 2016, plainclothes police arrested him in a café, interrogated him and took him to court, where he was tried without a lawyer. “My father told me that that day was the longest and most painful day of his life,” Thilleli told Morning Star News. “On top of all that, he was gone without his meds, which made him nervous and stressed.”
Slimane was sentenced to five years in prison, a sentence that was later reduced following an appeal and a partial presidential pardon.
Read more about Algeria in Church in Chains’ Algeria Country Profile.
(Morning Star News)