Algerian authorities last week sealed up the doors of the two largest Christian churches in the Muslim-majority nation despite last-minute pleas from worshippers. More than a dozen police officers stormed the 700-member Protestant Church of the Full Gospel of Tizi-Ouzou on Oct. 15, a day earlier than the church anticipated, Morning Star News reported. Police drove out more than 300 Christians who had gathered to pray and used force on those who resisted, including Salah Chalah, head of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) organization.
The officials also sealed a smaller church in the same province. The next day, they forced Christians out of the Source of Light Church in Makouda, which had more than 500 congregants.
Pastor Nourredine Benzid of Source of Light Church said the closure, the latest in an ongoing crackdown on Christians, marked a sad day for the nation. “It is unimaginable and unacceptable in the 21st century to see such a scene occur in a place of worship and in front of pacifist people,” he said. “I ask everyone to pray for the church in Algeria and for our dear and beautiful country.”
In November 2017, authorities started enforcing a 2006 ordinance that requires Christian worship centers to receive licenses from the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups. Since then they have shut down 15 churches, while the government failed to issue any licenses. It also refused to renew the registration of the EPA since 2013. Christians make up less than 1 percent of the country’s population.
The closure notice was dated Oct. 9, the same day more than 400 Christians staged a peaceful protest in front of a provincial government building to demand an end to the persecution. Several demonstrators held up signs that read, “No to the unjust closure of churches.”
“To shed light, this last notification is not the result of coincidence, but a provocative response to the sit-in of Oct. 9 in front of the Bejaia Province headquarters,” Chalah said.
Last month, the World Evangelical Alliance, made up of national evangelical groups from more than 130 countries, raised the plight of the Algerian Christians during a United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva. The group’s representatives said the country’s refusal to license the churches has allowed the aggressive campaign to persist.
“The churches are therefore in a legal grey zone of nonrecognition, giving authorities the latitude to close one building after the other,” they said. “We call on the government of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria to allow the forcibly closed church buildings to reopen, end the campaign against Protestant churches, and review the registration process.”