Algerians Request Renewed Prayer for the Church
By Claire Evans
03/21/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Algerian Christians are no strangers to persecution. Although the constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship, Islam is officially the state’s religion. Offending Islam or talking with a Muslim about Christianity is a criminal offense. Arrests and harassment have long been the norm.
But something has changed. Starting this past fall, the pressure facing Algerian Christians significantly escalated. Churches are rapidly closing as authorities continue to arrest believers. Authorities regularly harass and close down Christian-owned businesses.
What changed? Many Christians point toward the creation of a special committee in November 2017 made up of officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, national gendarmerie, intelligence department, and fire brigade. These officials began visiting churches, claiming that they were conducting safety inspections. Then the churches started closing.
According to the Minister of Religious Affairs and Waqifs, Mohamad Aissa, the reason for the church closures is quite simple. He said, “The places closed after these inspections (because) they do not meet any standard of place of worship, some of which are apartments in apartment buildings.”
Christians, however, respond by claiming that the authorities are using legal maneuvers to conduct a coordinated campaign against churches. One Algerian told Global Christian News, “There is a government commission that is going around to visit all the churches to look for little faults and give notifications for closure.” He added, “Among things they look (for is whether) the building has all the standards to be used as a place of worship. So you have to have an emergency exit, the doors must open outward, have fire extinguishers, first aid box, have qualified agents to give first aid in case, etc.”
Churches have long faced an uphill battle when it comes to operating legally in Algeria. In 2012, International Christian Concern (ICC) reported, “Despite permission given by the Ministry of Interior in July 2011 stating that all EPA (Protestant Church of Algeria) churches are allowed to officially register their congregations, many EPA churches… have not been approved.”
Technically, a church that operates under the umbrella of the EPA is supposed to be legal. “But the government doesn’t want this anymore,” Rev. Youssef Yacob explained to ICC, offering his own perspective on the latest pressures facing the Church. “They want every church to apply for its own license. This is why they are closing churches now. They want the local churches to apply for their own license.”
He added, “So instead of operating under the EPA, now we have to apply to the government. They want to make each church an association to itself, making it easier to control.”
Applying for a license is far from easy. “There are about 43 churches that have a license,” said Rev. Youssef. “Maybe about 27 churches do not have a license… They will have to apply. The problem is this: when you go to apply and go to the local department authorities, the authorities receive no instruction on what to do.”
Rev. Youssef believes that this is a reaction to the growth which the Algerian Church has experienced in recent years. “Of course the church has been very active in evangelism and church planting. They (the authorities) want to protect the people from evangelizing, by closing churches and limiting their presence. Even if we exist, we have to be very weak, fragile.”
Evangelism, or any activity that could be construed as evangelism, is considered a criminal offense in Algeria. Christians have also noticed an increase in cases where authorities argue that evangelism has occurred. Last week, an appeals court doubled the fine of two men who were charged with evangelism after authorities discovered that they had 56 Bibles in the car. In November, a Christian-owned bookstore was shut down after authorities accused the owner of distributing illegal Christian material.
The authorities’ efforts to intimidate the Church has left Algerian Christians very concerned. “We need much prayer and fasting,” said Rev. Youssef.
In the meantime, the future remains uncertain. Rev. Youssef added, “A lot of churches are going to close down, and believers will be scared of identifying with the Church and they will have to withdraw. Some churches will refuse to close down, and we don’t know what the consequences will be.”
For interviews with Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org