By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ALGIERS, ALGERIA (BosNewsLife)– Algerian authorities have ordered the closure of seven Protestant churches in Algeria’s Bejaia region on charges of “disobeying a law regulating worship” and Christians on Thursday, May 26, feared more prosecution in the overwhelmingly-Muslim nation, church officials said.
Pastor Mustapha Krim, who is the president of the Protestant Church in Algeria, confirmed in a statement that his denomination had received an official notification ordering the closures throughout the region.
“No motive was offered, but it seems the decision was in accordance with the law of February 2006,which requires authorization for non-Muslim worship,” he said in a statement.
“According to this decree, if one does not obey the instructions, the authorities are threatening to do the enforcement,” Krim added.
Under the 2006 law, places of worship in Algeria, even Muslim ones, require permits, as do religious leaders. “We are not against other faiths, we are just asking everyone to respect the law,” Bejaia prefect Hamma Touhame told the French-language daily El Watan. “Some worship in garages.”
Krim stressed that his church had tried to put its “status in order”, but “faced resistance” from authorities.
The leaders of the seven churches in Bejaia were reportedly summoned to a local police station to sign a document accepting the order, but refused to comply.
Krim warned of more prosecution because the churches “would continue to function” as they existed before the law was passed. “Apparently they want us to disappear from the map.”
A translated police statement distributed by rights activists suggested that more churches will face closure. “I, Mr. Ben Amar Salma, the High Commissioner of the police in Bejaia, have informed Mr. Mustapha Krim, the President of the [Protestant Church in Algeria] to close down all worship places around the country once for all…the places which are used now and the places which are under construction,” it said.
“The authorities will make sure that the order will be obeyed, otherwise severe consequences and punishments will be applied,” the statement added.
Non-Muslim worship and freedom of religion are officially protected by Algeria’s constitution, yet Muslimgovernment officials and other leaders regularly denounce Protestantism as anti-Islam. The evangelical church is expanding in overwhelmingly-Muslim Algeria with some 30,000 worshipers, French News Agency AFP quoted Krimas saying.
International Christian rights activists say the latest developments underscore growing pressure on the Christian minority in Algeria.
U.S.-based advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) said it had urged Algeria to repeal the 2006 law. ”
“To close seven churches and to threaten to terminate additional worship services is a criminal act initiated by a government that proclaims it upholds religious freedom,” said ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East Aidan Clay. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).