Alongside Algeria’s 98% Muslim majority live an estimated 90,000 Christians, mainly converts from Islam and their children. Many Algerian converts are Berbers, indigenous to North Africa, but an ethnic minority in this Arab-majority country. It is not illegal to convert from Islam, but anyone proselytising Muslims risks a five-year prison sentence.
Islam is the declared state religion but the constitution guarantees freedom “to exercise worship”, if exercised in accordance with the law. However, other laws reduce the effectiveness of this guarantee for non-Muslims. Although, according to a 2006 ordinance, the National Commission for Non-Muslim Worship can grant permits for churches, so far none have been issued, despite repeated requests by churches.
Building safety committees have inspected many church buildings since November 2017. Part of their remit is to determine which churches qualify for permits under the 2006 ordinance. More than 20 churches have been ordered to close since the beginning of 2018, but only three are known to have been granted permission to reopen.
Aouchiche church in the port city of Béjaïa was issued an administrative closure order in April 2022. It was instructed to stop worship meetings, despite the 300-strong congregation being a member of the EPA (Église Protestante d’Algérie), the officially recognised group of Protestant churches in Algeria. In November 2021, the Algerian government summoned Pastor Salah Chalah, the president of the EPA, to court for practising non-Muslim rites without permission.
In February 2022 local officials started legal proceedings against leaders of another EPA church in Ait Atteli in the province of Tizi Ouzou, with the aim of closing the church. The provincial governor took this action against the pastor and his father, who owns the land where the church building stands. The province of Tizi Ouzou has the highest concentration of Christians in the country.
Cry out to the Lord that the closure of churches on spurious administrative grounds will be halted. Pray that the authorities will issue permits for church buildings and that churches ordered to close will be reopened.