Algeria in the spotlight
Algeria is now on the US government's persecution radar
When the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2020 annual report in April, India was the main attraction. But it shouldn't pass unnoticed that, for the first time, the northern-Africa nation of Algeria now is officially on the USCIRF radar.
The commission put Algeria on its "Special Watch List." The 15 countries on this list, in the commission's judgment, "engaged in or tolerated severe violations" of the right to religion or belief in 2019. Conditions in these countries don't quite match the "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom" that characterize the 14 "Countries of Particular Concern," which the commission regards as the worst of the worst -- the group India re-joined this year after a 16-year absence.
Still, Algeria's new enrollment on the Special Watch List puts it alongside Afghanistan, Cuba, Kazakhstan, and other countries where Christians experience severe pressure because of their faith. The government of Algeria, whose 43 million people are 98 percent Sunni Muslim, ramped up pressure on religious minorities in 2019, the US commission said in its report: "The government systematically cracked down on the Evangelical Protestant community in particular through a string of church closures and raids." The country ranks No. 17 on the 2020 Open Doors World Watch List. That's up 5 ranks from the previous year's list; the rise is reflective of the generally deteriorating conditions for Christians across western Africa.
Algeria's debut on the Special Watch List means that the commission, which is an advisory body to the president, wants the US State Department to begin directly questioning Algeria's government about its rules for registering minority religious communities, and to start conditioning cultural exchanges on religious-freedom improvements. The state department each December issues its own Special Watch List and list of Countries of Particular Concern, using the commission's report as a recommendation. Should the state department ever designate Algeria as a Country of Particular Concern, Washington would be obligated by US law to impose economic sanctions if diplomatic efforts to improve conditions fail.
Such wheels turn slowly, but not without effect. India spent 10 years on the commission's Special Watch List until it was finally elevated – or, perhaps, demoted -- to the Countries of Particular Concern this year.
- Please pray for Christians in Algeria to be able to have access to the fundamental human right to freedom of religion or belief.
- Pray for the churches that have been closed by the authorities, that the government may allow these to open once again.