October 5, 2010 / 1:01 PM / in 7 years

Algeria Christians cleared of flouting Ramadan

AIN EL-HAMMAM, Algeria (Reuters) - Two Christian men on trial in Algeria for eating during daylight in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan were acquitted on Tuesday, a verdict their supporters said was a triumph for religious freedom.

The two men, members of Algeria’s small Protestant community, were charged with offending public morals for eating at the building site where they were working before the Ramadan fast had been broken for the day.

After the judge in the small town of Ain El-Hammam, about 150 km (93.21 miles) east of the Algerian capital, ruled they were innocent, a group of about seven Protestants standing on the steps of the courthouse shouted “Hallelujah!”

Salem Falek, one of the two men who had been on trial, told reporters: “I am happy. I have not done anything wrong. I am a Christian and I do not fast.”

Former French colony Algeria is mainly Muslim with a small Christian minority. The government says everyone has the right to practice their religion but critics say minority faiths are subjected to pressure.

During Ramadan, most Muslims refrain from eating, drinking or smoking during daylight hours.

There is no requirement in Algeria that non-Muslims follow these rules, but the prosecution alleged the two men ate in a public place and so offended public morals.

“It is a fair decision. Freedom of religion must be respected in Algeria,” a lawyer representing the two Christians said after they were declared innocent.

Algeria is emerging from nearly two decades of conflict between Islamist rebels and government forces that, by some estimates, killed about 200,000 people.

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