Algeria: two more Protestant churches closed down by government

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The church of Ait-Mellikeche. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The authorities in Algeria have closed down two more Protestant churches, amidst growing pressure on the country’s Christian minority.

Over the past weekend, police sealed off two churches in the north-eastern province of Kabylie, where much of the growth in the Church is happening.

One church is in Ait-Mellikeche, a district of Tazmalt, in the Bejaia region (200km east of Algiers, the capital). It was established in 2005, and more than 200 attended its weekly service. It affiliated to the main umbrella organization for Protestant churches, Eglises Protestantes d’Algerie (EPA), in 2007.

The notice to close the church was unexpected, as one of its leaders – who wants to remain anonymous – told World Watch Monitor:

“The officers came in on Friday morning. They simply sealed off the main entrance without a prior notice, as was the case before with other EPA-affiliated churches.”

Moreover there is no notification explaining the reasons behind the closure.

Yesterday (28 May), some leaders of the church went to police in Bejaia in an attempt to understand the authorities’ motives and to try to get them to lift the closure measure.

But “We were sent back empty-handed” one told WWM.

“The police told us to send a request to the Prefet of Bejaia, the only one who can do something since he was the one who ordered the closure”.

The church of Maatkas. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The other church to be closed this past weekend is in Maatkas town, 20 km from the main city of Tizi-Ouzou, 100km east of Algiers. Again, the order came from the Prefect, this time of Tizi-Ouzou.

The church of Maatkas is a nascent community, which gathers sixty members for its weekly service. It’s not yet affiliated to the EPA.

One of its leaders, again on condition of anonymity, told World Watch Monitor that the closure was not justified.

He said he got a call from a police officer saying: “I’m calling to inform you that we have received an order to close your church”.

On Saturday morning, a group of police officers sealed off the main entrance of the building. They also ordered the church leaders not to open until further notice.

The Algerian government has been criticised for discrimination against the country’s Christian minority. Churches and individual Christians have faced increased restrictions in recent months, raising concerns that these pressures signal a “coordinated campaign of intensified action against churches by the governing authorities”, according to Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern.

In addition to church closures, individual Christians have faced legal harassments in recent months, as WWM has reported.

On 18 May, EPA called on the Algerian government to lift its measure for closing down churches, and to give equal treatment to the Christian minority, as stated by the constitution:

“As full citizens, we call on the highest authorities in the country to ensure that all the fundamental rights of the citizen are protected, regardless of their religious affiliation.”

EPA had been officially recognised by the government since 1974. But in 2012, new laws meant that it had to re-register. Despite meeting all the legal requirements and applying for re-registration in 2013, the EPA is yet to receive an official government response, meaning, technically, it lacks official legal status.

Last month, three pastors from Algeria visited the USA, UK and France to ask that their leaders lobby the Algerian government to stop its current crackdown.

Mustafa Krim, Ali Khidri and Youssef Ourahmane, representing EPA, wanted to ensure that Christians are provided for under Algerian law, that the laws are respected and implemented and that Algeria fulfils its commitment to freedom of religion or belief as stated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

They are lobbying for the de-regulation of places of worship, official recognition for the EPA, an end to anti-proselytism laws, and freedom to import Christian materials.

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