ALGIERS, Algeria – Two men who converted from Islam to Christianity went on trial Wednesday on charges that they illegally promoted the Christian faith in Algeria.
Rachid Mohammed Seghir, 40, and Jammal Dahmani, 36, were already convicted in absentia for illegal practice of a non-Muslim religion in 2007 but asked for a new trial, as Algerian law allows, their lawyer said.
They are charged with praying in a building that had not been granted a religious permit by authorities and are also accused of trying to spread the Christian faith among Muslims, the court said.
Their defense lawyer said she felt confidant that her clients would not be incarcerated.
"Things have taken a good turn, and it's good sign this affair will be solved," Khelloudja Khalfoun told The Associated Press on the phone from Tissemsilt, about 155 miles southwest of Algiers, the capital.
The trial was adjourned until July 2, the court said. The verdict was expected then. The men are free in the meantime.
Algeria's constitution allows freedom of worship. But a 2006 law strictly regulates how religions other than Islam can be practiced.
The law is viewed as primarily targeted at Protestant faiths, which have become increasingly active in Algeria. It provides for sentences of up to five years in prison and a $15,570 fine for anybody trying to incite a Muslim to convert to another faith.
The Open Doors Christian activist group said the two defendants are evangelical Christians who were first prosecuted when Bibles were found in one of their cars in 2007 during a routine checkpoint.
Open Doors says Protestant missions have faced growing obstruction in Algeria, where 99 percent of the 34 million people are Muslim. The U.S. government estimates the Christian and Jewish population at 1 percent.
Algeria has a tradition of tolerance of other religions but went through a decade of near-civil war between the secular army and radical Islamist groups in the 1990s. Religion is a sensitive political issue in the country.