04/18/2018, 17.39
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Four churches closed in recent months in Algeria

by Kamel Abderrahmani

Muslims in Europe have the right to build mosques and practise their faith in peace, whilst Christians in Algeria do not. The law on non-Muslim worship hangs like a permanent sword over the head of the Protestant Church of Algeria. Christians are forced to rent places to worship whilst building owners are threatened and intimidated by the authorities.

Algiers (AsiaNews) – The right of religious minorities to worship is threatened in Algeria. Some laws, like the one promulgated by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2006 on the regulation of non-Muslim worship, make it difficult for Christians to profess their faith. We have already published an article by Kamel Abderrahman on religious freedom in his country.

This time, it is in the Algerian city of Akbou, home to a small church that thrived for at least seven years. At the beginning of last month, it was forced to stop all its activities. This is the fourth church to have closed in the last four months. The other three were near the city of Oran, 600 km west of Bejaia.

Unlike the church in Azagher (Kabylia), the other three churches were all affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria (Église protestante d’Algérie, ÉPA), which has been officially recognised by the government since 1974. In recent months though, of the ÉPA’s 45 churches, 25 received notifications telling them to comply with safety standards. This is a very abusive decision, especially since foreign funding of churches is ban by the authorities of my country.

Mohamed Aissa, our Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, spoke on pro-regime channel Ennahar TV, denying claims that the country’s Christian minority was suffering from discrimination. In his view, if the churches were being closed, it was because they "did not meet safety regulations required for a place of worship".

This assessment is hardly shared by human rights observers, for whom such closures are part of a "coordinated campaign of intensified action against churches by government authorities".

With respect to the ÉPA, the government has enforced the 2006 law on the regulation of non-Muslim worship which is held like a sword over the heads of the Churches. The law stipulates that permission must be obtained before using a building for non-Muslim worship, and that worship must be conducted only in buildings that have been specifically designated for that purpose.

In practice, the authorities have almost never responded positively to requests for permission by Churches. Without an official authorisation, Christians have been forced to rent places where they can worship and inform the authorities afterwards. At the same time, people who rent buildings to a Church are also threatened and intimidated by the authorities, making it more difficult for Christian communities to find a place to meet.

As a Muslim, the argument put forward by the minister of Religious Affairs inspires such mistrust – it is but the application of sharia in a discreet and indirect way.

Shutting down churches is an anti-Christian decision since the government of my country does absolutely nothing to help Christian communities find proper places of worship. This is part of the clumsy actions against my Christian brothers and sisters who even have to endure legal action as soon as they announce their conversion.

As a result, I wonder how it is it that Muslims in Europe have the right to build mosques and practise their faith in peace whilst Christians in Algeria do not have that same privilege in a country that considers itself Muslim. By contrast, if a mosque is closed in Europe, people will speak out against plots and Islamophobia.

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