Christian charities warned that the government of Algeria seems to have a campaign to systematically shut down churches and other Christian institutions in the country.
In the early morning of September 2, gendarmes (military officials) went to the Prince of Peace Church in Ighzer Amokrane, 119 miles east of Algiers, to close down the property, reports Morning Star News.
Several of them have been ordered to close or to cease their activities. The only reason given is always that they don’t have a license. —Daniel Hoffman, Middle East Concern Executive Director
The church’s closure was originally set for August 26, but representatives of 33 churches went to the Ighzer Amokrane church to guard it against the gendarmes.
Sources said another church is set for closure in Maatkas, 12 miles south of Tizi-Ouzou. A church elder disclosed that officials questioned one of three church leaders about its operations. The interrogation lasted for two hours and the leader was released.
Middle East Concern noted that the series of church closures in Algeria looks like it is part of the government’s campaign to disrupt Christian activities, reports Mission Network News.
“This is something that goes in waves. In 2006, an ordinance was issued by then-president Bouteflika that regulates non-Muslim religious worship,” said MEC Executive Director Daniel Hoffman.
Hoffman added that Algeria has a commission to issue permits for non-Muslim religious worships, but, “they have never, ever issued a single permit.”
Authorities accused Christian churches of operating without the proper license. They would inspect churches and ask owners for the proper documents. “Several of them have been ordered to close or to cease their activities. The only reason given is always that they don’t have a license,” said Hoffman.
MEC revealed that the Algerian government ordered the closure of eight church buildings, seven of which are connected with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA).
Christian anti-persecution charity Open Doors UK said churches are being shut down in Algeria for two years now, reports Premier. “These actions clearly represent a deeply concerning continuation in the systematic campaign against Christians in Algeria,” said the charity’s spokesperson.
Open Doors UK also criticized the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, the government office established to issue licenses to churches. Since its creation in 2006, it has not issued an official permit.
“These latest developments serve to undermine any sense that the Algerian authorities are taking genuine steps to improve Freedom of Religion of Belief in Algeria,” Open Doors UK said.