Yet another Christian church has been ordered to shut down in Algeria as the government’s crackdown on houses of worship continues.
The United Kingdom-based Christian persecution advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Hope Evangelical Church in Oran city in western Algeria received a closure order issued by a local court earlier this month.
The church is the latest in a series of churches that have received similar orders under a 2006 law requiring that all non-Muslim places of worship be authorized by a government board called the National Commission for Non-Muslim Worship.
“The closure of House of Hope church and the increased government pressure on Christians and other religious minorities in Algeria is a cause for concern,” CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement.
CSW, which is active in over 20 countries, reports that 13 churches in total have been shut down since last January.
“The 2006 law is being used as a pretext to clamp down on churches in Algeria despite the fact that the commission it created is yet to meet to consider the requests it has already received,” Thomas stated. “This is manifestly unjust.”
Thomas claimed that if the commission is not willing or able to fulfill its duties under its mandate, then the government should either reconstitute the committee or repeal the 2006 law to ensure religious freedom in Algeria.
As for Hope Evangelical Church in Oran city, Morning Star News reports that the closure order was supposed to be received last fall when other churches received their orders. However, the church’s pastor, Rachid Seighir, did not receive the order until Jan. 11 even though the order was issued on Nov. 10.
“This official document was to be delivered by a bailiff appointed by the public prosecutor at the court of Oran [Province], but it wasn’t so,” Seighir was quoted as saying.
Seighir explained that his lawyer took the initiative to obtain the ruling.
The pastor said that people affected by church closure orders have just 10 days to appeal. However, he said the judge granted the church an exception because of the delay in getting the order.
According to Seighir, the province’s then-governor in December 2017 sent the church a notice saying that the congregation was not in accordance with the 2006 law. The province gave the church three months to comply with the law and get approval from the commission that has not met.
Although the church was closed down in February 2018, it was reopened in July 2018 under the condition that it comes into compliance with the 2006 law, according to Morning Star News. The church contends that it complies with the law because it is a member of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA).
“But we all know that these laws are only there to muzzle Christians and other religious minorities,” Seighir said.
According to International Christian Concern, most churches in Algeria are affiliated with the EPA since it was once a legally recognized umbrella group before the passing of the 2006 law. ICC called the EPA “the most secure option for Christians” because it was once approved by the government.
Algeria ranks as the 17th worst country in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reports that Algeria has seen a rise in “every persecution category over the last year.” The country rose five spots on the World Watch List between 2019 and 2020.
“The most visible example of persecution in 2019 was the seemingly systemic closure of Protestant churches,” an Open Doors fact sheet reads. “In some of these cases, Christians were forcibly expelled by police in the middle of church services.”