Algerian police closed another church in the north-eastern province of Bejaia last week, reports Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern.
On Tuesday (16 October) police officers closed and sealed the doors of the Protestant church in Azaghar, a village near Akbou, about 180km southeast of the capital Algiers.
This follows this year’s closure of a number of Protestant churches, the latest in July, also near Akbou. Although three churches were later opened, a Christian bookshop and day-care centre for Christian children were also closed.
The church in Azaghar, a member of the Église Protestante d’Algérie (EPA), the legally recognised umbrella of protestant churches in Algeria, has been active for more than five years and has about 300 congregants.
In February the church received a letter from the government, saying that its building failed to meet safety requirements, including the absence of emergency exits and fire extinguishers – issues the church had since resolved, said Middle East Concern. However, in March its activities were suspended and now the church has been closed for good.
The letter, however, also pointed out the church had violated regulations by hosting foreign visitors, and that its building was supposed to be used for poultry business, said the advocacy group.
Like most EPA-affiliated churches, the church in Azaghar received a visit by a so-called “building-safety committee” in December 2017.
As World Watch Monitor reported in July, these committees are supposed to inspect the buildings’ suitability to host meetings, but they have also been asking about licenses required by a 2006 ordinance regulating non-Muslim worship. However, the government has yet to issue any licence for a church building under this law and in view of the authorities’ failure to respond to applications, it has become standard practice for churches to rent premises and inform the local authorities that they have done so.
In July the UN Human Rights Committee urged the Algerian government to stop harassing Christians and guarantee religious freedom for all its citizens.