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Algerian authorities shut down three more churches of the Protestant Church of Algeria (Eglise Protestante d’Algérie, EPA), that has around 50 affiliated churches nationwide, including Evangelical churches, on 15 and 16 October. Salah Chalah, president of the EPA stated in a press release, “Once more, Christians in Algeria are the subjects of illegal and unjustified harassment. Without court approval, the authorities shut down a dozen churches. The churches in Makouda and Tizi Ouzou were closed on Tuesday 15 October by police who also assaulted worshippers in prayer.”
A decision that causes outrage given that neither the Ministry of the Interior nor the Ministry of Religious Affairs had communicated the shut-downs in advance. Last December, Mohamed Aïssa, Minister of Religious Affairs, said that freedom of religion was guaranteed by the Algerian Constitution but stressed that the EPA “does not respect the Laws of Algeria.” The official reason for the closures is, “unauthorized religion”. But this is “just an excuse,” explains Chalah, seeing that “since 2018, twelve communities affiliated with EPA have been closed.”
The most recent closures took place in Makouda and Tizi-Ouzou, two cities in the Kabylie region approximately 90 km East of Algiers. “The practice of our religion,” explains the church’s pastor, “is in compliance with the law.” The EPA has 46 churches in 12 of the 48 regions in the country and about ten thousand worshippers. Furthermore, the federation has been in Algeria since its establishment in November 1974.
Why then are Protestant churches being targeted by the authorities? Historian Karima Dirèche, who has studied freedom of religion and the new Evangelical churches in Algeria, explains.:
Evangelical churches in particular are targeted by authorities because, “their members make very public displays of their faith,” she says. “Worshippers claim their Algerian origins and their conversion by openly declaring a project to reawaken Christianity in Muslim countries,” and they are specifically asking, “the authorities to ensure freedom of religious pluralism in Algeria.”
A law passed in 2006 imposes restrictive administrative procedures on non-Muslim religions but by law it upholds the presence of Christians in Algeria. “The law does not ban apostasy (conversion),” the historian continues, “but it bans proselytism.”
A protest march took place in Bejaia, about 240 km east of Algiers, and many Algerians demonstrated their solidarity with the Protestant church on social media and asked that free exercise of religion be respected.