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Update: Another church closed while government orders investigations to be ‘strengthened with all harshness’

Update: Another church closed while government orders investigations to be ‘strengthened with all harshness’

1 October 2019

More churches are closing in Algeria, as the country’s authorities have ordered officials to clamp down harshly on ‘subversive’ Protestant churches in the country. 

The closure of a Protestant church in Boghni, in northern Tizi Ouzou Province, is the eighth church to be sealed belonging to l’Église Protestante d’Algérie (EPA), an umbrella group for 45 Protestant churches. The church building is home to two congregations, and the closure affects about 380 Christians. 

Earlier this month, police in neighbouring Béjaïa Province sealed the Church of the Prince of Peace, an EPA-affiliated church that has been waiting since 2013 for its re-registration to be approved. In August, officials close another Protestant church in Tizi Ouzou Province. 

EPA churches have struggled to obtain registration in accordance with a 2006 law that requires all non-Muslim places of worship to be licensed. 

‘Destructive ideas’

A backdrop to the closures is an order issued last month by the interior ministry, entitled: ‘The activities of religious groups that contradict national religious constants, in particular their destructive/subversive attempts in this period the country is going through’.  The ministry sent the order to provincial governors and the General Director of Internal Security, the Director of the Gendarmerie and the Director of National Security, according to an Algerian daily newspaper cited by Middle East Concern

In the order, which also mentions two radical Islamic groups, Protestant churches are portrayed as subversive and pastors are accused of spreading ‘destructive ideas’ with the support of foreign groups. The heads of security are called to ‘strengthen with all harshness’ investigations of church leaders’ financial activities, MEC said. 

In May, three EPA leaders visited the UK to ask that its leaders request the Algerian government to stop its current crackdown on its Christian minority.

Algeria is number 22 on the 2019 Open Doors World Watch List. Open Doors works with local partners and churches to support the church there through training, literature distribution, socio-economic development projects and advocacy support.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Algeria who have lost their places of worship due to this crackdown, that they would not be disheartened or discouraged; and please pray for the Algerian authorities, that their hearts would be softened and they would encourage freedom of religion or belief in the country.

THE TERRIBLE CATCH-22 FACING ALGERIAN CHURCHES

17 September 2019

A campaign of church closures is continuing in Algeria. The most recent took place on 2 September when, early in the morning, gendarmes (paramilitary police officers) arrived at the Church of the Prince of Peace in Ighzer Amokrane and sealed the building.

In mid-August, the church had been issued with a closure order. Gendarmes had previously tried to seal the building on 28 August, but representatives of 33 congregations managed to prevent this by occupying the church and refusing to leave. These Christians spent the day worshipping and praying in the building.

The closure on 2 September is illegal as it wasn’t ordered by a court, argues l’Église Protestante d’Algérie (EPA), the legally recognised umbrella group of Protestant churches in Algeria. A meeting with provincial authorities on 28 August had ended with a promise for further consideration – but nothing more was heard until the closure on 2 September.

AN IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION

Algerian Christians never feel secure in their church buildings. A longer-term issue has escalated in the past couple of years, in what appears to be a systematic attempt by the government to close all Christian institutions in the country. The reasoning given is a 2006 ordinance to regulate non-Muslim worship, which stipulates that all Christian churches must have a licence. The government has not issued any licences in the thirteen years since, despite applications from churches.

Since late 2017, most EPA-affiliated churches have nevertheless been challenged to prove that they have licences. This was done under the guise of a health and safety check. Church leaders in Algeria are caught in an impossible situation, and several churches have received written orders to cease all activities. At least seven churches have already been closed, and three others ordered to close.

Ninety-nine per cent of Algeria’s population is Muslim and only 0.3 per cent are Christians, most of whom have converted from Islam. Algeria rose considerably on the Open Doors World Watch List in 2019, and is listed at number 22 in the most difficult countries in the world to follow Jesus, up from 42 the previous year. Despite this, the church is growing in Algeria.

Open Doors works with local partners and churches to support the church in Algeria through training, literature distribution, socio-economic development projects and advocacy support.

Please pray

  • for peace and protection for the EPA, church leaders and members as they deal with the continued pressure
  • that regulations governing non-Muslim worship will be amended so that Christians will be able to worship freely in the whole country
  • that the church in Algeria will continue to grow in the face of persecution, as more Algerians see the hope and salvation in Jesus Christ.