Christians in north-central Algeria were kicked out of their churches Wednesday by police just days after many faithful protested the government’s crackdown on houses of worship.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a U.K.-based nongovernmental organization that monitors persecution in 20 countries and has consultative status with the U.N., reports that three Algerian Christian churches have been shut down this month.
According to CSW, the number of churches that have been shut down in Algeria so far this year has risen to at least eight.
Since 2017, waves of church closures have been carried out by authorities in the Muslim-majority country on the basis of a 2006 law that requires all non-Islamic places of worship to be authorized by a national government agency.
Critics say that that agency, the National Commission for Non-Muslim Worship, does not actually meet and therefore, applications to build new churches are not considered.
On Wednesday, police shut down The Light Church in the city of Tizi Ouzou in north-central Algeria and evicted worshipers from the church.
The forced closure of The Light Church follows the closing of two other churches this week: Protestant Church of the Full Gospel in Tizi Ouzou and Source of Life Church in the Tizi Ouzou suburb of Makouda.
Salah Chalah, who heads the Protestant umbrella group l’Église Protestante d’Algérie, told Morning Star News that he received an order by the Tizi Ouzou governor on Sunday calling for the closing of the Protestant Church of the Full Gospel.
Chalah contends that the governor’s order to seal the church shut came in retaliation for a sit-in protesting church closures held at the Bejaia Province headquarters last week. He said the order for the church’s closure was dated on Oct. 9, the same day the Christian sit-in was held.
“After Tarek read the notification, they asked me to sign it, which I refused to do,” Chalah told Morning Star News. “But they said they were going to act anyway. Then I told them, ‘Anyway, on your arrival, we will wait for you, as many as possible, inside the room of worship in praise and prayer. That’s our way of opposing your actions.’”
As for the Source of Life Church in Makouda, CSW reports that the church’s pastor, Nour Eddein Bin Zeid, was issued a police summons on Wednesday, the same day the church was shut down.
According to CSW, the National Commission for Non-Muslim Worship inspected all Christian places of worship in Tizi Ouzou in January 2018. After that, several churches were ordered to cease activities because they were considered illegal even though some of the churches had been around for years.
“We are deeply concerned by the closure of the Light Church, the Full Gospel Church, and the Source of Life Church in northern Algeria,” CSW Chief Executive Merwyn Thomas said in a statement. “These closures violate Article 42 of the Algerian Constitution, which declares the inviolability of the freedoms of conscience and opinion, and guarantees the free exercise of worship for all citizens.”
CSW called on Algerian authorities to allow the shuttered churches to reopen and for police to stop harassing the Christian community.
“We also encourage Algeria to repeal the 2006 law, which effectively criminalizes the internationally-recognized freedoms of association, and of religion or belief,” Thomas added.
According to the U.S.-based advocacy group International Christian Concern, most churches in Algeria are affiliated with the EPA due to the fact that the denomination was once legal in Algeria before the passage of the 2006 law requiring the government commission's approval to build a new church.
According to ICC, the EPA is “the most secure option for Christians” because of its previously approved status.
But pastor Youssef Ourahmane, vice president of the EPA, told the French-language magazine The Free that the government is trying to close as many churches as possible.
Last year, in the Oran province, the government allowed three churches to reopen after having been shut down months prior. However, Morning Star News reports that the governor of Oran province has filed a court complaint against their re-opening and is demanding that the churches again be closed.
Algeria, where Christians comprise less than 1% of the country’s population, ranks as the 22nd-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List.
“Restrictive laws regulating non-Muslim worship, banning conversion and prohibiting blasphemy put Christians at extreme risk,” an Open Doors fact sheet reads.