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Algeria Bans Promoting Christianity

ALGIERS , ALGERIA (BosNewsLife)– Evangelical Christians in Algeria faced another tense day Friday, March 31, after the Algerian parliament approved a law banning the promotion of other religions than Islam, BosNewsLife learned.

The legislation was passed in this North African nation in March as the world focused on Abdul Rahman, the 41-year old Afghan who fled to Italy this week after facing a possible death sentence in Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity.

Algeria’s new religious legislation says anyone “trying to call on a Muslim to embrace another religion,” could be send to prison for two to five years and receive a fine of up to USD 12,000, several Arabic media reported.

Commentators said the law was in response to Christian evangelists and missionary workers who have preached in several parts of the country. The law would be especially applied to “anyone urging or forcing or tempting, to convert a Muslim to another religion.”

CHRISTIAN PUBLISHERS

Christian publishers are apparently also targeted as the same penalties apply to every “person, manufacturer, store or circulate publications or audio-visual [media]” or other communication tools “aiming at destabilizing attachment to Islam.”

The law also bans practicing any religion “except Islam” outside “buildings allocated for that” by prior licensing. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has suggested that the aim of the law is to “ban religious activity” and what it called “secret religious campaigns,” BosNewsLife monitored.

It was believed to target especially evangelical Christians who believe the Bible orders them to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever possible. The new measures were expected to raise eyebrows in the United States . The US State Department in its recent report on religious rights already noted that the North African nation’s constitution “declares Islam to be the state religion.”

It warned that “Islam is the only state-sanctioned religion, and the law limits the practice of other faiths, including prohibiting public assembly for purposes of practicing a faith other than Islam.” The new legislation, which some observers have linked to upcoming elections, is believed to increase the pressure on Christians not to spread their faith or actively engage in Christian activities.

CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

Algeria ‘s Christian community constitutes the largest religious minority in the country. About 1% of its nearly 33 million, mainly Sunni Muslim, population are Christians and Jews, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but some experts say the number of active Christians could be as low as 11,000.

Before Algeria ’s independence from France in 1962 there were hundreds of thousands of Christians. There are currently nearly 300 priests and monks active across the country, according to some estimates.

Algeria ‘s primary political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), dominated politics in the last decades. The surprise first round success of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the December 1991 balloting spurred the Algerian army to intervene and postpone the second round of elections to prevent what seculars feared would be a Muslim extremist-led government from assuming power.

Following ensuing bloodshed in the 1990s which an estimated 100,000 people died, the army eventually placed Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the presidency after what the international community saw as a fraudulent election in 1999. He was reelected in 2004. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Algeria ).