Restrictions on Religious Freedom in Algeria Prompt USCIRF Condemnation
06/24/2021 Algeria (International Christian Concern) – On Wednesday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed its concern for the deterioration of religious freedom in Algeria. USCIRF’s condemnation comes in the wake of several Algerian court cases that resulted in the unjust imprisonment of Algerian Christians. In combination with strict restrictions surrounding places of worship, these incarcerations reflect the disturbing decline of religious freedom in Algeria in recent years, a trend that has potentially grave implications on the country’s minority Christian communities.
Persecution against Algerian Christians stems largely from legal restrictions on religious expression and freedom to worship. Like many predominantly Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Algeria has passed blasphemy laws that prevent Christians from worshipping, sharing their faith, or even possessing Christian literature. On June 6, Algerian pastor and bookstore owner Rachid Mohamed Seighir was sentenced to a year in prison for “printing, storing, or distributing materials that can shake the faith of a Muslim.” Earlier this year, Algerian Christian Hamid Soudad was sentenced to five years in prison for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, the maximum sentence under Algeria’s blasphemy law. Blasphemy laws pose the highest threat to Christians who converted from Islam, as the Muslim majority disproportionally targets them.
Recent years have also seen a troubling rise in church closures and other limitations on Algerian Christian’s ability to worship freely. The Algerian government has utilized registration for places of worship as a method of preventing religious minorities from gathering to practice their faith. Non-Muslim organizations must register with the National Commission Governing Worship by Non-Muslims, a conference that rarely meets and frequently neglects to respond to churches’ registration requests. This demand for registration and subsequent refusal to grant them has resulted in the closure of 13 Protestant churches in Algeria since 2017. On June 4, three recently closed churches were ordered to be permanently sealed in a court decision that USCIRF has since criticized.
In its 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that Algeria be placed on the State Department’s Special Watch List for its persecution of minority religious groups within its borders. These violations of international religious freedom are deeply contrary to the United States’ standards at home and abroad, and the US government should consider them in its future diplomatic relations with Algeria. For now, USCIRF’s statement provides increased awareness of persecution in Algeria and the methods by which it is propagated.
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