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01/17/2024 Algeria (International Christian Concern) – Despite nearly every Christian church being shut down in Algeria, the Arab Parliament recently came to the country’s defense, claiming that Algeria has made great efforts to promote religious freedom.

The statement came in response to the U.S. Department of State’s recent placement of Algeria on its Special Watch List (SWL) for engaging in and tolerating concerning violations of religious freedom. The Arab Parliament condemned the State Department’s decision, stating that “American interference in issues related to religious freedom is completely unacceptable.” The legislative body called Algeria a “role model in promoting religious freedom” and stated the country is committed to “strengthening commonalities between different religions.”

Yet the reality for Algerian Christians tells a different story.

Since 2017, the Algerian government has forcibly closed more than 40 Christian churches, most of which are affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). Routine church closures stem from the 2006 ordinance, which requires non-Muslim worship to operate only in licensed buildings. To date, the licensing commission has yet to issue a single permit. As a result, many congregations were forced to meet in underground house churches – and in 2023, authorities clamped down on this, limiting house church gatherings to ten people.

Church pastors and clergymen have also faced a string of arrests in recent years. In September 2023, the vice president of the EPA, Reverend Youssef Ourahmane, was convicted for holding unauthorized worship on a church complex under his supervision. Other religious workers have been imprisoned on charges such as the ‘production or distribution of religious materials,’ and ‘shaking the faith of a Muslim.’ Those accused are routinely arrested, fined, and subjected to lengthy court proceedings, with trial dates frequently being delayed for several months.

Furthermore, since the beginning of the Hamas-Israeli war, tensions have increased for Christians in Algeria. The Algerian government perceives them as supporting Israel in the conflict and as foreign and Western influences corrupting the nation’s Islamic national identity.

The right for Christians and religious minorities to peacefully gather must be upheld, even in the midst of political turmoil. The Arab Parliament must recognize Algeria’s religious freedom shortcomings and encourage its government to protect the rights of all people of faith.

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