Algerian churches closed as laws target non-Muslim worship

Algerian Christian churches continue to face closures as authorities enforce laws which regulate worship of non-Islamic religious worship.

According to religious news services, House of Hope Evangelical Church in Ayoun Turk, Oran City (on the Mediterranean coast) last week received a closure order from the Administrative Court in Oran.

“This is manifestly unjust.” – Mervyn Thomas, Christian Solidarity Worldwide

The closure notice is based on a 2006 law called ‘Conditions and Rules for the Exercise of Religious Worship other than Islam’, which makes proselytising Muslims a criminal offence. All non-Muslim places of worship must be authorised by the National Commission for Non-Muslim Worship.

However, according to UK-based organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide: “The Commission does not actually meet, so applications for permission to use buildings as churches, or to build new churches, are never considered.”

CSW monitors persecution in 20 countries and has consultative status with the U.N. CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “The closure of House of Hope church and the increased government pressure on Christians and other religious minorities in Algeria is a cause for concern.”

“The 2006 law is being used as a pretext to clamp down on churches in Algeria despite the fact that the Commission it created is yet to meet to consider the requests it has already received.

“This is manifestly unjust. If the Commission is unable or unwilling to fulfil this essential part of its mandate, then the government should either reconstitute it entirely, or the law itself should be repealed in order to ensure the right to freedom of religion or belief for religious minorities in the country,” he said.

The law has been used as the basis for closing 13 churches since January 2018. Last year, three churches in the Oran province which had been closed were allowed to re-open. The governor of Oran province has reportedly filed a court complaint against their re-opening, demanding they be closed again.

The closure of House of Hope Evangelical Church has been a drawn-out process. For more than one year, the church has fought the order.

A first notice of non-compliance was issued on December 28, 2017. The notice gave the church three months to comply with the law, but officials arrived in mid February to seal the church’s worship hall.

Five months later, police reopened the building on the condition that the church comply with the laws. Pastor Rachid Seighir asserted they did, according to their affiliation with the Protestant Church of Algeria umbrella body (l’Église Protestante d’Algérie or EPA).

The province’s governor maintained each church must obtain licensing under the 2006 law and undertook a route through the court system. On November 10 last year, a court ruled the church must close. But Pastor Seighir told Morning Star News that notice was not issued to the church until 11 January.

“This judgment dates from November 10, 2019, and usually affected people have ten days to appeal,” said Pastor Seighir, adding that his attorney took the initiative to obtain the ruling.

The pastor’s lawyer notified the judge of the delay so the church can still appeal within ten days of January 11.

Open Doors is an international organisation that provides support to people affected by persecution. Annually, it produces the World Watch list which tracks persecution of Christians across the world. Algeria ranked 17th among the 50 most dangerous countries to follow Jesus.

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