Published on: 8 April 2018
…it’s like I spent 20 months in a coffin..”
Slimane Bouhafs, 51, an Algerian Christian convert from Islam, imprisoned since July 2016 for insulting Islam, has been released from prison.
“Good evening to all. Glad to be with you again, because it’s like I spent 20 months in a coffin…” Bouhafs posted on Facebook on April 8. “What I have endure in prison is a succession of unjust elements and I am not ready to forget them so quickly…PS: I will tell my testimony in a few days, time to rest. Thank you all.”
According to the Algerian newspaper, El Watan, Bouhafs daughter Tilelli and her mother was on her way to visit her father on March 31 when he called to say he had been released and was waiting for a taxi. She asked him to wait for them.
“Finally my father has been given back to us,” his daughter Tilelli posted on Facebook on Easter Saturday.
Bouhafs was arrested on July 31, 2016 for posting a message on social media about the light of Jesus overcoming the “lie” of Islam and its prophet. He also shared articles and cartoons considered insulting to Islam and posted photos showing the execution of a civilian by an Islamist terrorist.
At the time of his arrest his daughter Tilelli stressed that her father had only shared someone else’s posts on Facebook, “I wonder why there is this rage against my father, who did not have a high profile on Facebook.”
Bouhafs, a former policeman, is chairman of the St. Augustine Coordination of Christians in Algeria, an organization that defends freedom of religion and minority rights. He also belongs to Movement for Self-Determination of Kabylie (MAK), a separatist group. His arrest is believed to be a way of silencing his political activism.
Bouhafs, a former Muslim, became a Christian in 1997. He was arrested on July 31, 2016 near his house in Bousselam, Setif province, in the Kabylie region of northeast Algeria. He was jailed in Setif prison.
On August 7, 2016 he was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to the maximum penalty of five years. He began a hunger strike in protest of his arbitrary detention but became gravely ill after several days and had to end his hunger strike.
On September 6, 2016, his sentence was reduced to three years by the Court of Appeals in Setif.
His family became concerned for his health as he began to deteriorate in prison. Bouhafs suffered from inflammatory rheumatism that worsened under stress and needed to follow a special diet. His daughter Tilelli said her father lost half his body weight in the first two months of his incarceration. Family members said he was severely weakened and “unrecognisable.” He had been denied access to medical treatment and lost consciousness at least three times and was taken to hospital on several occasions.
In November 2016, Bouhafs was transferred to Bel Air prison in Setif to Constantine prison in east Algeria. Fellow Muslim prisoners attacked Bouhafs for defending Christianity following an inflammatory sermon by an imam who incited hatred against Christians. A prisoner alerted the guards and he was separated from other prisoners. His daughter Tilelli said that when she visited him she saw that he was terrified, though he tried to hide his fears. She petitioned the government to transfer him to Oued Ghir Prison in Bejaia, closer to their home, but was denied.
July 5, 2017, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika granted Bouhafs a semi pardon, reducing his sentence by 16 months. On October 2, 2017 his family applied for a parole because his health was deteriorating but were denied.
Slimane Bouhafs was released from prison on March 31, 2018, having served out the remainder of his sentence.