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Unauthorized for worship

International | Algerian authorities shut down the nation’s largest churches
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 10/22/19, 04:40 pm

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.”

Associated Press/Photo by Czarek Sokolowski (file) Associated Press/Photo by Czarek Sokolowski (file) The main gate of the former Nazi German Stutthof concentration camp in Sztutowo, Poland

A Holocaust reckoning

A German court last week began the trial of a 93-year-old former guard who played a role in the deaths of more than 5,000 people at a Nazi concentration camp.

Bruno Dey was 17 when he became a guard with the SS-Totenkopf-Sturmbann (Death’s Head Battalion) in what is now the city of Gdańsk, Poland. Court documents said he was complicit in the deaths of about 5,230 prisoners whom Nazis shot in the neck, poisoned with Zyklon B gas, and denied food and medicine.

Germany has scrambled to prosecute elderly SS officers after a landmark 2011 ruling lowered the standard of proof required for convictions. German broadcaster NDR reported the country has about 29 open cases against people involved in the Holocaust.

In testimony Monday, Dey apologized to the victims of the camp. He said the Nazis assigned him there involuntarily because a heart condition kept him out of combat. He told the court that “the images of misery and horror have haunted me my entire life,” the German dpa news agency reported. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Youssouf Bah Associated Press/Photo by Youssouf Bah A police officer detains a protester in Conakry, Guinea, on Oct. 14.

Presidential power grab

At least 10 protesters died in demonstrations last week in Guinea over a possible constitutional change that would allow President Alpha Condé to seek a third term. Clashes sprang up between protesters and police officials in the capital of Conakry and the northern opposition stronghold of Mamou.

A 14-year-old schoolboy died in the violence, a coalition of opposition groups said. At least 70 other protesters were shot, and police arrested another 200.

Condé, 81, will complete his second five-year term by December of next year. Last month, he asked the government to look into drafting a new constitution, prompting fears that he would extend term limits. Other African leaders, including Cameroonian President Paul Biya and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, adopted similar measures. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Alexandra Olson Associated Press/Photo by Alexandra Olson Opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro protest outside of United Nations headquarters in New York on Sept. 24.

Ironic appointment

Venezuela secured a spot on the United Nations Human Rights Council last week despite its abysmal human rights record. Venezuela and Brazil emerged with the highest number of votes for the two slots slated for Latin American countries on the 47-member council. The three-year term will begin in January.

At least 3 million people have fled Venezuela since 2014 amid an economic and social crisis that saw dissidents increasingly targeted. More than 50 countries, including the United States, no longer recognize President Nicolás Maduro as the nation’s legitimate leader. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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