Local authorities in Algeria’s north-western city of Oran have closed two more churches amidst growing pressure on Christians in the Maghreb country.
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, 27 February.
The police notification stated that the churches didn’t have state approval. The decision is not the first of its kind in Oran.
On 9 November 2017, another church in the town of Aïn Turk (15km from Oran) was also closed. The authorities claimed the church had been used to “illegally print Gospels and publications intended for evangelism”.
Since December, 25 out of the 45 churches affiliated to the main Protestant Church body in Algeria – the Protestant Church of Algeria (known as EPA, its French acronym) – have been visited by a committee of officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, national gendarmerie, intelligence department and fire brigade.
The churches were informed that the visits were aimed at checking compliance with safety regulations, and they were given three months’ notice.
They were also advised to seek permission from the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
On 21 February two churches (among the 25 which received notifications) in the city of Tizi Ouzou, in the eastern province of Kabylie, were asked “to cease all religious activities immediately”.
EPA leaders called the closures “unjustifiable”. They noted that all the affected churches are affiliated with the EPA, which has been officially recognised by the government since 1974.
On Saturday 24 February the EPA called for a week of prayer and fasting for the nation. In light of the increasing pressure, the World Evangelical Alliance has also called on the Algerian government “to ensure that the religious freedom of Christians is safeguarded in accordance with international law”.
Godfrey Yogarajah, Deputy Secretary-General of the WEA and head of its Religious Liberty Commission, added: “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.”
Other forms of restriction have been also reported in recent weeks in Algeria.
On 13 December 2017, a French Christian, 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. He and his wife had been running a private French-language school.
According to Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern, 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.
The authorities gave no reason for his deportation, MEC said. His wife was subsequently able to settle their family and business affairs in Algeria and has recently also left the country.