Algerian Christians fear government crackdown after church closures

Christians in Algeria now fear that the government may be launching a more intense crackdown against them after the last few months saw a series of arrests, raids, and church closures take place.

(WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Ps2613)The Sacred Heart Cathedral of Algiers, started to built in 1956. 22 September 2010.

On Dec. 19, police arrested three individuals at a restaurant in Chlef for possessing Christian literature. The believers were later released, but the U.S. State Department said they could be criminally charged for proselytizing and might face up to five years in jail and a million dinars in fines, the Pakistan Christian Post relayed.

In the same week that the Chlef incident happened, authorities from various departments conducted an inspection on two Protestant churches in the northern province of Bejaia. The intelligence, police, fire brigade, and religious affairs officials were reportedly making sure that the church buildings were adhering to safety regulations.

In the southern part of the country, a Christian church that had been using a facility for 10 years was ordered to stop holding religious activities there. The church leaders were accused of being noncompliant to safety regulations and had reportedly failed to secure a government permit. The southern Algerian church was then told that its congregants could only resume gathering three months after it has gotten the said document. Other churches and Christian establishments were also targeted in similar inspections.

In Algeria, religious gatherings can only be held in locations that are allotted exclusively for such use. The law also prohibits proselytizing to a Muslim and offending any religion.

Henri Teissier, a retired archbishop of Algiers and former president of the conference of bishops of Northern Africa, spoke to Middle East Eye in a recent interview about Christian persecution. He said the violence against believers did not just stem from a desire to target the religious community.

According to Teissier, terror groups have focused their attacks on Christian communities and other religious minorities to weaken the government, just like what happened to Algeria in the 1990s. However, he said the attacks on believers in their country only led them to have closer ties with other communities.

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