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Police Commissioner Threatens to Terminate Protestant Worship in Algeria

Washington, D.C. (May 25, 2011) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Algerian authorities ordered the immediate closure of seven Protestant churches in the province of Béjaia in early May and demanded that the Algerian Protestant Church Association (EPA) eventually close all churches under their authority throughout the country.

A written notification dated May 8 and addressed to the President of the EPA demanded the closure of seven churches in Algeria’s Béjaia province, located 200 kilometers east of the capital Algiers. The notification was reportedly ordered by Hamou Ahmed Touhami, the president-appointed wali (or governor) of the Béjaia province, and signed by Police Commissioner Ben Amar Salma. A follow-up statement released by the local police department on May 22 further stated that all Protestant churches in Algeria must be closed. “I, Mr. Ben Amar Salma, the High Commissioner of the police in Bejaia, have informed Mr. Mustapha Krim, the President of the EPA … to close down all worship places around the country once for all; the places which are used now and the places which are under construction… The authorities will make sure that the order will be obeyed, otherwise severe consequences and punishments will be applied,” the statement read.

After receiving the notice, the leaders of the seven churches in Béjaia were summoned to the police station to sign a document accepting the order, but reportedly refused to comply. Without compliance, churches will likely be closed by force and leaders may be arrested. “According to this decree, if one does not obey the instructions, the authorities are threatening to do the enforcement,” said EPA President Mustapha Krim. “Apparently they want us to disappear from the map.”

Algerian Christians are fearful that the order against churches in Béjaia is a prelude to more closures. “This first notification may be the beginning of permanently closing every place of worship other than Islam throughout the national territory,” a church leader in Tizi Ouzou told ICC. “On Tuesday, most of the national press in Algeria spoke of the case. We must begin to make noise and to not allow this to pass over in silence, or else the authorities will crush us.”

The notice stated that churches are to be closed in accordance with Ordinance 06-03, which was established in 2006 to regulate the worship of non-Muslims by requiring churches to obtain government permission to hold services. According to the notification received by the EPA, the churches are to be closed permanently “for exercising religious worship other than Islam without authorization or the compliance of the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Services.”

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “To close seven churches and to threaten to terminate additional worship services is a criminal act initiated by a government that proclaims it upholds religious freedom. We urge Algeria to stand behind Article 36 of the Constitution, which states that freedom of creed is inviolable, by repealing the legislation introduced in 2006 which makes it impossible for Christians to worship freely, and by instituting nondiscriminatory reforms that uphold the equality of all religious faiths. Now is the time for Algeria to demonstrate to the world that it desires religious freedom and is steadily making progress toward that end.”

For interviews, contact Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for the Middle East: clay@persecution.org.