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(LifeSiteNews) — A Spanish priest is being charged with a “hate crime” carrying a prison sentence of up to three years for an essay that criticizes Islam.

According to CNA, in February, Father Custodio Ballester was summoned by a regional court in Spain to respond to charges of a supposed “hate crime” for his criticism of Islam. He faces up to three years in prison and a fine of over $1,600 if convicted.

The charges were initially brought in 2020 when the state prosecutor in Catalonia claimed that Ballester’s 2016 article titled “The Impossible Dialogue with Islam” meets the criteria of a “hate crime.”

Ballester, who serves as a parish priest in Barcelona, wrote his essay in response to a pastoral letter by his superior, the archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Juan José Omella, titled “The Necessary Dialogue with Islam..”

In his rebuttal to Omella, Ballester wrote: “This new reactivation of Christian-Muslim dialogue, paralyzed by the alleged ‘imprudences’ on the part of the late Pope Benedict XVI, is very far from becoming a reality. Islam does not allow dialogue. For Islam, either you believe, or you are an infidel who must be subdued one way or another.”

Ballester quoted Sura 9:29 of the Koran at the beginning of his article: “Fight those who do not believe in God, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, nor abide by the religion of truth—from among those who received the Scripture—until they pay the due tax, willingly or unwillingly.”

“In countries where Muslims have power, Christians are brutally persecuted and killed,” the Spanish priest stated in his essay. “What dialogue are we talking about then?”

READ: New report details atrocities of persecution in Nigeria with 8,000 Christians killed last year alone

“Christians in Muslim territory are tolerated and ‘protected,’ they are dhimmi, that is, if they pay Islamic power by paying the Jizya, a special tax paid only by Christians, to be able to practice their faith without being persecuted and condemned,” Ballester wrote.

He noted that Islam’s Prophet Muhammed “spent his entire life…subjecting those who opposed him to blood and fire.”

According to Islamic Sharia law, Christians and Jews who refuse to convert to Islam are not recognized as full citizens but considered semi-slaves called “dhimmi” who have to pay a special tax called “jizyah.”

The OpenDoors “Word Watch List” shows that the majority of the top 50 countries in which Christians are most persecuted are Islamic states.

READ: New report reveals worldwide increase in persecution and martyrdom of Christians

“I know Muslims who were not offended and understood perfectly well that I was not referring to them but to those who live Islam in a violent, radical way,” Ballester told CNA.

When asked whether he was prepared to spend three years in prison if convicted, the Spanish priest said: “It doesn’t seem right to be convicted for something I’ve said, but in Spain anything is possible. But if I am convicted, this will no longer be Spain but Pakistan, where you can be killed for blaspheming the Koran or Mohammed.”

“There is no longer any true right to free speech in Spain,” Ballester added.