Algeria church closures rise in an alarming rate
On October 16, police in Algeria closed one of the country’s largest Protestant churches (about 700 members). The next day, state officials closed two other church buildings—adding more congregations to a growing list of shuttered churches and intensifying what Open Doors is calling a “systematic campaign” to close Protestant or independent Christian churches in the north African country where Sunni Muslims account for an estimated 98.2 percent of the population.
Pastor Salah, the leader of Full Gospel Church in Tizi Ouzou, one of Algeria’s major cities, was informing church members that he had received notice the church would be closed when police interrupted the service and ordered church members to leave. Those who resisted were pushed outside. At one point, police beat church leader Pastor Salah; other church members were also injured.
The video below was captured by church members when police unexpectedly showed up to close the church.
Order for closure left on the door of Full Gospel Church in Tizi Ouzou.
The Full Gospel Church is now sealed, with an order to close left hanging on the door. Another church was also closed in Tizi Ouzou on October 17. The police arrested 17 Christians, including men and women, during a peaceful sit-in to protest the church closures. They were released though not told if they will face charges. Some reported they were ill-treated and insulted.
The recent actions of state authorities represent “a deeply concerning continuation in the systematic campaign against Christians in Algeria,” an Open Doors spokesperson says. “They serve to undermine any sense that the Algerian authorities are taking genuine steps to improve Freedom of Religion of Belief in Algeria.”
14 churches closed
In the last two years, Algerian officials have closed 14 Protestant or independent churches—out of an estimated 50 churches in the entire country (not counting house churches). And the campaign continues to intensify. In two days, three Algerian churches, including Full Gospel Church, another in Tizi Ouzou, and an Assemblies of God church, in Makouda, have been ordered to close.
During the closing of the second church in Tizi Ouzou, police officers made statements indicating that these closures are intentional and will continue to increase. One of the church’s elders tells Open Doors that an officer remarked: “You can film as much as you want and send these videos to the United States. Nobody can change our determination to close your churches.”
Algeria is number 22 on the World Watch
The recent crackdown on churches doesn’t seem to be fueled by any specific occurrence or development. Since 2006, non-Muslim places of worship in Algeria have been required to secure a license, but many Protestant-affiliated churches report that it has only been in the last two years that the authorities have started asking for proof of the license. The Algerian government is using the 2006 law to close churches or to stop their activities.
For example, in late 2018 a church in Azaghar was ordered to close, charged with “unauthorized worship.” The church building was sealed by police in October 2018. Since then, the congregation has met in a tent erected on the property. Reportedly, the owner of the tent was summoned several times by the authorities and asked to dismantle the tent, but the church has continued to meet.
Since November 2017, most of the estimated 46 churches affiliated with the Protestant church of Algeria have been visited by so-called “building-safety committees,” which also asked for permits required for non-Muslim worship by the 2006 law. However, the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, which was established to issue official permits to churches, has not issued any licenses since the law was passed.
In addition to church closures, the state is using other means to harass and pressure Christians. Open Doors ministry partners report that officials from the country’s intelligence services are now frequently in church services. One leader told us about a pastor whose passport was taken by the police and not returned for weeks.
“Several leaders have been interrogated by the police for several hours in a row,” says one pastor who recently had the same experience. “The first policeman was very severe. He was shouting at me, smashing the door. But I stayed calm, and replied with questions, not answers. I felt at peace, no fear. I felt that I had more authority than him. But after him, a second policeman came. He acted nicer, but he showed he knew a lot about me. That was disturbing, and I knew I had to be careful. Being interrogated for two and a half hours is a long time.
“The incidents are happening again and again with shorter intervals. I believe this is all meant to frustrate my work and the work of other pastors. But they had no success: we are still here; we will stay here till our death.”
Christians in places like Algeria are at risk for arrest or having their churches shut down at any moment. They are following Jesus, despite the cost—but they need the help of Christians from around the world to support them.