Churches and individual Christians in Algeria have faced increased restrictions in recent months, raising concerns that these pressures signal a “coordinated campaign of intensified action against churches by the governing authorities”, according to Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern.
On 19 December, three Christians were arrested in Chlef, 200km north-west of the capital, Algiers. According to MEC, they were visiting from the north-eastern town of Tizi Ouzou and had arranged to meet a contact at a café.
“Police entered the café, found they were in possession of Christian literature, and took them to the police station, where they were investigated at length”, MEC said.
“A local newspaper, known for its hostility to Christians, described the incident as a ‘foiled evangelism attempt’, accusing the Christians of working under the cover of humanitarian activities and of alluring young Muslims to convert by means of financial and travel inducements.”
MEC said the three Christians were released but “may face charges of proselytism”.
During the same week, two churches in the province of Bejaia, in the north-eastern region of Kabylie, were reportedly visited by a committee of officials from the ministry of religious affairs, fire brigade, national gendarmerie and intelligence department.
“The churches were informed that the visits were to check compliance with safety regulations,” Mec said. “The two buildings host meetings of eight church congregations in Bejia. The result of the inspection is pending.”
In Ouargla in the south of Algeria, another church, which has been active for ten years, reportedly “received an order from the provincial Governor to cease all religious activities” following a buildings inspection on 14 December.
“Leaders were accused of lacking authorisation to use the building as a place of worship, and of failing to comply with safety requirements,” MEC said. “They were advised to seek permission from the ministry of religious affairs, and [told] that worship activities can only recommence three months after obtaining such permission.”
Previously, in November, a church and Christian-owned bookshop in the north-western town of Aïn Turk, near Oran, were forcibly closed, as World Watch Monitor reported.
According to MEC, another church training centre in Boudjemaa, in the Kabylie region, was visited by the police and has since halted its operations. The leaders are to be investigated next month.
“The affected churches are all affiliated to the Protestant Church of Algeria [l’Église Protestante d’Algérie, or EPA], officially recognised in 1974,” MEC reports. “The EPA questions the motives behind the inspection visits, and believes that the accusations leading to the church closures have been unfounded.”