09/13/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) –Algeria, a country located in the Maghreb region of North Africa, does not tend to make the headlines in Washington, D.C. But that lack of attention may be due more to Washington’s inattention to the state of religious freedom than anything else—Algeria easily makes the top-25 list of the world’s worst religious-freedom violators, and the situation in Algeria is only getting worse today.
One of the main ways that Algeria targets its Christian population is by shutting down their churches. Other tools are used to oppress Christians as well—laws regulating non-Muslim worship, anti-conversion and anti-blasphemy laws that shut down religious free speech, and a culture of animosity towards Christians all make it difficult to practice one’s faith in Algeria. Some of these tools of oppression are coded into the law, some are merely de facto, but they all combine to make the life of an Algerian Christian extremely difficult. The shutting down of churches, though, is an increasingly common tool being used by the Algerian government.
When the Algerian government goes in to shut down a church it doesn’t necessarily use police force, although that does happen. Algeria uses a variety of pretenses to shut churches down, including the innocuous-sounding claim that they need to conduct safety inspections—and seal the church building off in the meantime.
In other cases, the authorities will demand that the church produce a license authorizing the building for use as a place of non-Muslim worship. The license that the authorities demand in these cases is one created in 2006 and issued by an approval committee assigned to the task—a committee that has never met in the decade-plus that has elapsed since it was created. This reality means that the license demanded by the authorities does not exist, and authorities could have a blank check to shut down churches if this technique continues to be used. The authorities demand these licenses despite the fact that the Protestant Church of Algeria is a legally recognized entity, and the fact that its churches shouldn’t have to obtain the elusive licenses in order to operate in the first place.
Some churches in Algeria have managed to resist the recent crackdown in recent weeks, but the overall outlook for the church in Algeria will not be pretty if the Algerian government does not choose to stop its systematic harassment of churches. ICC has long worked in and with the Algerian church, and this is not the first time since our work there that the government has targeted Christians through the guise of building codes and licenses.
In previous incidents in Algeria where ICC has been involved, we have found the Algerian government responsive to US pressure. It is important that our policymakers in Washington, D.C. understand the very real positive impact that they can exert around the word, even in a country as far away as Algeria. The Algerian government listens when members of Congress, the State Department, and the international community choose to stand up and protest the religious oppression of the Algerian people. We must not let the Algerian church struggle alone, but should stand with them against the systematic harassment that they are facing from the Algerian government.