TIZI-OUZOU, Algeria (Morning Star News) – After Slimane Bouhafs was released from prison in 2018, having served nearly two years for violating Algeria’s blasphemy laws, further persecution drove him to Tunisia.
Threats on his life continue there, and he is stuck in legal limbo – missing his daughter’s wedding on Friday (April 2).
“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,” Bouhafs said in tears on Thursday (April 1). “It is a very great pain that I am suffering.”
Initially sentenced to five years in prison in 2016 for messages he posted on Facebook favoring Christianity over Islam, Bouhafs benefited from advocacy efforts that drew international attention, and he received a partial presidential pardon in 2017 that resulted in his release on April 1, 2018. Like many Christians branded as blasphemers of Islam, his troubles did not end with his release.
“Hateful people still wanted my life,” Bouhafs, 54, told Morning Star News. “Once I found two tires 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.”
After his release, the government cut off disability benefits he had received due to a condition that caused him to stop working as a security guard in 1999, he said. Before that, he had worked as a policeman until 1994.
“For 19 years I usually received my due [benefits], but since my release, nothing,” he told Morning Star News. “The Algerian Islamist state stole part of my life and even my salary. I was left without a penny.”
Fearful for himself and his family, he decided to seek asylum in Tunisia, as obtaining a visa for Europe or North America was impossible, he said. Bouhafs arrived in Tunisia in October 2018 – where he has been threatened repeatedly by phone and on social media, he said.
“Once, three people on a motorbike accosted me in the middle of the street, in front of a multitude of people coming and going,” Bouhafs said. “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.”
One of the men had an Algerian accent, he said.
“I went straight to the police station to file a complaint. Unfortunately, there at the police station I was more mistreated,” Bouhafs told Morning Star News. “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.”
He began filing for asylum with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in November 2018, but his case was held up by several administrative delays, he said.
“During that period, I was very ill to the point where I was admitted to the hospital for 11 days,” he said. “I was experiencing indescribable anguish and stress. I only thought of one solution, suicide. I was given treatment which allowed me to resume.”
Occasionally he was able to receive visits from family members, he said, 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, administrative processes improved, and he was able to obtain a refugee card in October, he said. Bouhafs said he did not understand why the UNHCR has not found a host country and authorized his departure.
“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,” Bouhaf said. “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.”