More churches closed down in Algeria amid growing pressure on Christians

Two more churches have been closed down by local authorities in Algeria's north-western city of Oran amid growing pressure on Christians in the north African country, according to World Watch Monitor (WWM).

The two churches – L'Oratoire [The Oratory] in Oran's city centre, and a village church in Layayda (about 40km from Oran) – were sealed off by police on Tuesday this week, WWM reported.

According to the police notification, the churches did not have state approval. WWM said that the decision is not the first of its kind in Oran.

Under Algerian law all faiths are allowed to practise if they meet certain conditions, but proselytising is illegal.Reuters

The closures come after growing concerns about heightened government pressure on churches and Christians in Algeria, with the World Evangelical Alliance's (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission this week calling on authorities there to ensure religious freedom for people of all faiths.

Meanwhile, L'Église Protestante d'Algérie (EPA), the WEA's national member body in Algeria, has called on churches around the world to join them in a week of prayer and fasting for their nation.

In recent months, authorities in Algeria have stepped up restrictions against Christian churches in the country leading to an increase in arrests of Christians in the country.

On November 9, 2017, another church in the town of Aïn Turk (15km from Oran) was also closed, WWM said, with the authorities claiming that the church had been used to 'illegally print Gospels and publications intended for evangelism'.

WWM also reported that since December, some 25 out of the 45 churches affiliated to EPA have been visited by a committee of officials from the ministry of religious affairs, national gendarmerie, intelligence department and fire brigade.

The churches were given three months' notice and reportedly informed that the visits were aimed at checking compliance with safety regulations.

They were advised to seek permission to operate from the ministry of religious affairs.

On February 21, two of the churches which received notifications, in the city of Tizi Ouzou in the eastern province of Kabylie, were asked 'to cease all religious activities immediately'.

WWM quoted EPA leaders calling the closures 'unjustifiable'. The EPA noted that all the affected churches are affiliated with the group, which has been officially recognised by the government since 1974.

Other forms of restrictions in Algeria have also been reported in recent weeks.

On December 13, a French Christian who had been a resident in Oran for several years, was denied re-entry to the country.

Pastor Louis Martinez, in his sixties, is affiliated with the French Reformed Church and he and his wife had been running a private French-language school.

Pastor Martinez was stopped at Oran Airport and asked to submit his residency permit, which had been recently issued and was valid for ten years, and then informed he must leave Algeria according to Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).

MEC said that the authorities gave no reason for his deportation. The pastor's wife has recently also left the country, WWM reported.

Meanwhile, the WEA highlighted that in March 2006, the Algerian parliament adopted 'Ordinance 06-03', which effectively confined non-Muslim worship to specific buildings approved by the national commission for non-Muslim religious groups.

Not a single permission has so far been granted for Algerian churches, the WEA said.

The deputy secretary general of the WEA and head of its Religious Liberty Commission, Godfrey Yogarajah, said this week: 'We call on the government of Algeria to ensure that the religious freedom of Christians is safeguarded in accordance with international law. We also call on the government, in keeping with the country's constitution, to take all steps necessary to guarantee the freedom of worship for all religious groups in the country.'

The EPA is calling on churches and believers around the world to join them in a week of prayer and fasting for their nation.

Bishop Efraim Tendero, the secretary general of the WEA, said: 'Please join me in uplifting the situation of our Algerian brothers and sisters in prayer, so that God may change the hearts of those in government and allow them to see the great blessing that Christians are to their nation.

'Religious freedom for people of all faiths is at the foundation of a healthy society and Algeria can only flourish as a country if believers – Christians and others – are allowed to worship freely and without discrimination.'

There are estimated to be a few hundred thousand Protestant Christians at most in Algeria.