By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ALGIERS, ALGERIA (BosNewsLife)– Two more churches have been closed by courts in Muslim-dominated Algeria as part of a government crackdown on places of Christian worship according to court documents seen by BosNewsLife. The closure orders were given to a church in the coastal city of Oran on January 12 and to the House of Hope church in Ain Turk, near Oran, on January 20, Christians confirmed.
The churches have one month to appeal the ruling. It was not immediately clear if and when an appeal procedure would take place.
Christians said that the then-governor of Oran Province, Mouloud Cherifi, first issued a closure order against the Oran city church in February 2018. It was allowed to reopen four months later. He also sealed House of Hope in October 2017, but it could again open its doors in June the next year. However, the governor later filed court cases against both churches saying they were illegal because they were not licensed, Christians said.
He reportedly cited licenses required by “Ordinance 06-03 to Regulate the Worship of non-Muslim Creeds.” Separately Cherifi demanded the closure of the Oran church bookstore run by the pastor for allegedly producing and distributing Gospel literature. Any literature or other means designed to “shake the faith of a Muslim” is illegal in Algeria.
Trial observers said the two churches were the latest congregations to be closed under Algeria’s controversial licensing regulations. In recent years at least 19 churches were reportedly closed. Most of them are part of the EPA or ‘Église Protestante d’Algérie’, the state-recognized umbrella group of Protestant churches, BosNewsLife learned.
Under the legislation, the National Commission for Non-Muslim Worship grants permits for churches. But Christians complain that no permits have been issued, despite repeated requests by Christian leaders. Rights groups say that this leaves churches legally vulnerable to closure.
In one of the latest previous incidents, Algerian authorities reportedly shut three churches in October last year. Worshippers were forcibly evicted from the Full Gospel Church in Tizi Ouzou city, leaving 1,000 Christians without a place to meet, said Christians familiar with the situation.
Algerian officials were also seen shutting the 500-congregation Source of Life Church in Makouda and closing the 100-member Light Church, in Tizi Ouzou.
The tensions over churches have put pressure on President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who won the election in December from candidates associated with the era of his long-ruling predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He was forced to step down after mass protests in April.
But the opposition boycotted the election, demanding an end of the military-dominated elite and a sustained campaign against corruption. President Tebboune claims he wants to carry out necessary reforms. But critics say the former civil servant faces a severe challenge in winning over the public trust, including from minorities such as Christians.
Some 99 percent of the population of 40 million is Muslim, and Islam is Algeria’s state religion. Despite the difficulties for non-Muslims, church observers say thousands of Algerian Muslims have embraced Christianity. Algerian officials estimate the number of Christians at 50,000, but Christian groups claim it could be at least twice as much.