Algeria intensifies persecution of churches—pastor, church members beaten

October 18, 2019 by Lindy Lowry in Persecution updates

On Wednesday, 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.

“As [the police] entered unexpectedly, it first led to panic among the church members,” reports an Open Doors’ staff member who is in close contact with Algerian church leaders.

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.

Full Gospel Church is now sealed, with an order to close left hanging on the door. And Open Doors has recently learned that a day after the church and another one in Tizi Ouzou were closed (Thursday, October 17) 17 Christians, including men and women, were arrested 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.”

Learn why Algeria is ranked No. 22 on Open Doors’ World Watch List

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.”

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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.”

Pastor Salah asks us to pray with him and his church

“I ask the worldwide Church to pray that the Lord will be with us during this hardship. I hope you will pray like the prayer in Acts 4. I also hope that Christians around the world will ask their governments to ask the Algerian government to stop with what they are doing. I hope they will demonstrate in front of Algerian embassies and ask that the Algerian government will respect the fundamental rights of Algerian Christians.”

‘Muslims are coming to us’

Despite growing pressure from the state, Algerian church leaders tell Open Doors that they see signs of a new revival. Almost all Algerian believers come from a Muslim background.

“Muslims are coming to us,” says Pastor Muslih (we can’t use his real name).  “Yes, the government is now the big giant in front of us. The authorities close churches. That is their new tactic—and they put a lot of pressure on leaders and elders. But we are well organized in prayer, we pray from 6 pm till midnight.

“We see signs of a new revival. Muslims are coming to us; they are tired, and some clearly and openly say, ‘We want to know Christ.’”

The church in his region is growing, he says. “Twenty years ago, there were less than 1,000 believers all over the country. That number has now grown to about 35,000 in the visible church and I believe even more than that number in the still secret and not-visible church.

“In the area where we work, there are some 500 people we’re in contact with; half of them are Arabs. In the whole country, the number of converted Arabs now is about 4,000. The rest of the believers are Kabyle. There are many believers who don’t go to a church, but instead watch Christian TV. Sometimes we meet them in a coffee shop. The church in Algeria wouldn’t have space to receive all those people.”

Some representative photos uses for security reasons

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