Churches in Algeria are facing intimidation and harassment, despite recently decreed laws that should guarantee freedom of worship in the country.
On Sunday 24 April, 2016, a church in Mâatkas, in the north-eastern province of Kabylie, was ordered to cease all religious activities on the grounds that it was in breach of a 2006 law which regulates non-Muslim worship. However, the church is part of the Protestant Church of Algeria, which is legally registered. The authorities have threatened to commence legal proceedings against the church if Christian worship continues in the building currently being used by the church.
In response to the order, the president of the Protestant Church in Algeria, Rev. Mahmoud Haddad, said:
“The new constitution, passed in February 2016, has duly established freedom of religious worship. Its Article 36 clearly states that freedom of religious worship is guaranteed in compliance with the law,” he said. “The house where the church conducts its worship was rented on behalf of the Protestant Church, which has an official agreement from the Ministry of the Interior”.
This is a long-standing legal difficulty faced by churches in Algeria. The 2006 law stipulates that permission must be obtained before using a building for non-Muslim worship, and that such worship can only be conducted in buildings which have been specifically designated for that purpose.
But in practice, the authorities have failed to respond to almost all applications from churches for places of worship, including churches affiliated with the Protestant Church. In view of the authorities’ failure to respond to applications, it has become standard practice for churches to rent premises and inform the local authorities that they have done so.
In May 2011, the mayor of Béjaïa invoked the 2006 law to order the closure of seven protestant churches accused of operating ‘illegally’. However, as a result of pressure from the Protestant Church, and a wave of protests from activists and human rights groups, the mayor withdrew this order.
The issue of finding places to worship is a real challenge for the church in Algeria, which is experiencing remarkable growth, particularly in the north-eastern province of Kabylie.
Of the 43 local churches affiliated with the Protestant Church, only 15 own their places of worship. Some churches have either rented premises, which they have then turned into places of worship, while others gather in homes. In some remote areas, Christians gather in the forest or on the top of mountains to avoid hostile reactions from neighbours.
The situation of these churches, devoid of permanent places of worship, prohibits their stability and development. Five churches have closed for lack of a place of worship.
To remedy this situation, the Protestant Church has established a special fund for the benefit of affiliated churches in need.
“Our aim is that every church has its own place of worship,” said Rev. Haddad. “We will establish a list of all the communities that have no place to meet, or those who are occupying places as tenants, and see how to help them get their own place of worship.”
Source: World Watch Monitor
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