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.”