Algeria’s Catch-22

By Claire Evans

01/18/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)In late 2019, a disturbing video was released, showing Algerian law enforcement forcibly dragging out members of an Algerian church who were staging a peaceful protest. The video was just a snapshot of the wave of persecution once again per­petrated by the Algerian government against the nation’s Christians.

“Today, two of the largest church­es in Algeria have been closed,” a spokesper­son for l’Eglise Protestante d’Algerie (EPA), speaking with ICC on the condition of ano­nymity, said. “We do not understand the relentless injustice of the Algerian government towards us. They refuse to hear us or listen to us.”

“I am sharing with you our worries and the challenges that we are facing on a daily basis,” said Pastor Salah, head of the EPA, in a follow-up message. The fear in his words, spoken in French, was almost tangible. Pastor Salah went on to plead for the global Church to pray for the Church in Algeria.

Pastor Salah’s desperate cry for help to the global Church came after two of the largest churches in Algeria, where approximately 2,000 Algerian Christians met for worship, were forcibly closed by the government. In total, 12 churches were closed from January to November 2019 – eight within in a period of six weeks.

Their crime? They were unable to produce a permit that the government has failed to issue.

It all started with a 2006 law. According to the law, any non-Muslim worship must occur in designated buildings with a permit. However, it turned out to be a thinly veiled catch-22. In order for churches to receive a permit, they must obtain one from the National Religious Practices Committee – a committee that has never met since its supposed formation. Even though the committee in question lives on paper, it has never convened to review the applications of churches seeking authorization as non-Muslim places of worship.

Many churches were able to sidestep this legal conundrum by joining the larger body of the EPA, the Protestant Church of Algeria, which was recognized by the government before 2006. This status afforded them some protection – until last year.

Last year, that law was once again abrupt­ly leveled against Christians. Not even the EPA could escape the targeted suppression of Christianity in Algeria.

The Protestant Church of the Full Gospel of Tizi-Ozou was closed on October 15 and its lead pastor, Pastor Salah, was beaten. Pastor Salah is also the President of the EPA.

The Algerian government could now close any and all Christian churches with impu­nity when licenses to worship, even those that actually exist, should not be required to wor­ship to begin with.

The real crime of these churches is their mere existence. Algeria is a predominantly Muslim country, with over 99% of the popula­tion adhering to Sunni Islam. The 2006 law that started the 2019 church closures is merely a front for a massive persecution effort against churches in Algeria.

Some Algerian Christians have successfully resisted authorities who have attempted to close their churches in the past. One church in Ighzer Amokrane was given advance notice. By the time the law enforcement officers arrived, pro­testers and an attorney were prepared. The attor­ney pointed out to the police officers that they did not have jurisdiction to close the church.

According to the attorney, only the commit­tee, the same one tasked with issuing permits to churches, has the authority to sign off on a church closure. The attorney’s explanation successfully rebuffed enforcement attempts – for the time being.

But the Algerian government has wis­ened up. The Protestant Church of the Full Gospel of Tizi-Ozou and the Makouda church were informed just one day before the police arrived. The churches’ response was to rally together protesters to resist the closures, but the government authorities prevailed.

The EPA has 45 affiliate churches. With two of the largest of them closed in late 2019, the rest are facing a similar fate.

The actions of the Algerian authorities indi­cate that their only goal is to hinder non- Muslim worship. They do not care about the safety or rights of their own citizens.

“Algerian Christians have now found them­selves with thousands of Christians without a place of worship,” the EPA spokesperson told ICC. “But we remain confident in the Lord. We need the prayers of our brothers and sisters from across the world.”

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