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Algerian Christians asking for your prayer and support

18 May 2008

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Barnabas Fund is concerned about the increasing official and unofficial discrimination against Algerian Christians. Since the beginning of January 2008 some 20 churches have been closed and there have been numerous arrests of Christians. Please remember them in your prayers.

Algerian Christians have asked their brothers and sisters around the world to speak up for them by writing to their Algerian ambassador or to the Algerian government. Writing a letter in your own words is the most effective action, but we have provided a sample letter which may help. If you write your letter, it does not need to be long, but make it clear and polite. (Sample Letter / places to write to).

The current situation of Christians in Algeria

Algerian Christians often meet together in basement rooms like this to worship

Algeria is a Muslim-majority country with a secular government. The Algerian Church has been growing rapidly from a few hundred national believers in the early 1980s to around 30,000 now, mostly in Protestant/evangelical churches affiliated to the Eglise Protestant d’Algerie (Protestant Churches Association EPA). Over recent months, opposition to Christian evangelistic activities has been on the increase, and Islamic extremists are complaining about the government’s “lenient” approach towards Christian churches. There are plans to create a “Commission to Fight against Christianisation”; one of its aims is to lobby the president and government to encourage them “not to be weak in the face of the crusades”. Neighbouring governments have also voiced concerns about the steady growth of Christianity in Algeria.

Discrimination against individuals

In 2006, the Algerian government introduced new regulations (New law 2006 English / New law 2006 French) (ref Ordonnance no 06-03 - 29 Moharram 1427) to restrict the religious activity of non-Muslims. These new regulations are vague and all-embracing, creating the potential for official discrimination against Algerian Christians and other non-Muslims.

The Algerian government and Algerian ambassadors in several countries claimed that the new laws were merely addressing a gap in Algerian legislation and that they were neither discriminatory nor hostile to Christians. However, articles such as Article 11, which threatens fines and imprisonment for anyone who “incites, constrains or utilizes means of section tending to convert a Muslim to another religion” are not paralleled in the regulation of Muslim activities.

Over the last months at least ten Christians have been arrested, often on questionable charges (list of people arrested). Some non-Algerian pastors who have been living in the country for decades have been expelled. Foreign Christian students have been threatened with expulsion. The level of official anti-Christian activity is such that it has been widely commented on in the Algerian press, and has drawn criticism from Algeria’s own human rights associations and leading political, social, cultural and artistic figures in the country.

Discrimination against churches

Under the new regulations, the government also requires churches to register with a Commission which was to be set up specifically to oversee such registrations. Churches were given six months from February 2006 to register. However the new Commission Nationale des Cultes autres que Musulman actually took sixteen months to set up: it commenced officially on 4 August 2007 (Arrêté du 20 Rajab 1428). So far it is understood that not one single Protestant church has been able to register with the Commission, despite numerous attempts. Neither the Minister for Religious Affairs nor the Commission have responded to the registered letters sent to them by the EPA. The Minister for Religious Affairs, the local officials in the Prefectures, and other official bodies all decline responsibility for registration and pass the request on to somebody else.

By contrast, state representatives and the police have become very zealous in issuing orders for churches to stop unregistered activities. Since December 2007 Algerian officials have closed at least 25 churches that have been operating officially for many years (list of churches). This is quite a significant number considering the fact that there are only about 150 churches in Algeria.

These developments and the anti-Christian attitude of the Algerian government and Islamic extremists are very disconcerting, especially in light of the fact that Algeria has signed the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). They also stand in sharp contrast to Algeria’s own Constitution which states that “Citizens are equal before the law with no discrimination on the basis of birth, race, gender, opinion or any other personal or social condition or circumstance” (Article 29) and guarantees the fundamental liberties and human rights of the citizen (Article 32) (analysis of the new regulations).

April 2008