Middle East Resources

A Salute to the Algerian Christians Resisting the Government’s Attack on Their Freedom

Bassam Michael Madany

 

On 24 October 2019, Human Rights Watch released a bulletin regarding the Algerian government crackdown on the Christian churches in the country. The following are excerpts from the account, followed by eye-witness testimonies of Algerian Christians who experienced the persecution.                                                                            

“(Beirut) – The recent closure of three Protestant churches and a police assault on worshipers at one church are the latest examples of the repression of this tiny religious minority in Algeria, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should immediately reopen the churches and publicly commit to protecting freedom for all religious communities in Algeria.

“Police raided and shut the biggest Protestant church in the country, the Full Gospel Church, in Tizi Ouzou, on October 15, 2019, and assaulted worshipers, including Salah Chalah, the church’s pastor and president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (Eglise Protestante d’Algérie, EPA), Chalah told Human Rights Watch. The following day, police sealed two other churches in Tizi Ouzou province. On October 17, police arrested, and later released, dozens of Protestants who were protesting the crackdown in front of the Tizi Ouzou governorate.

“The three closures bring to 12 the number of Protestant churches the authorities have closed since November 2018, the Protestant Church of Algeria said, mostly on the grounds that the state has not granted permission for these sites to be used as places of worship, as required by Ordinance 06-03 of 2006, ‘Governing the Practice of Religions other than Islam.’ The Protestant Church of Algeria said that the authorities rarely approve their applications, putting their churches at constant risk of closure. The authorities have also declined to renew the Protestant Church of Algeria’s status as a legally recognized association, which it has had since 1974. A 2012 law requires associations to re-register. 

“Chalah said that he received a summons from the Tizi Ouzou police on October 12, 2019. When he presented himself the following day, an officer asked him to sign an order from the governor to close his church, which he refused to do. On October 15, at around 5 p.m., shortly after the afternoon prayers, police entered the church and forced around 15 worshipers out, Chalah told Human Rights Watch. He said they used batons and injured him and several others. He obtained a medical certificate from the Nedir Mohamed Hospital in Tizi Ouzou, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, stating that he suffered trauma to his left leg that requires eight days of rest. 

“Human Rights Watch reviewed the sealing order placed on the door of the Full Gospel Church. Dated October 9, 2019, it states that the authorities decided to close the church until the pastor, Salah Challah, regularizes his status according to Ordinance 06-03 and the Law on Associations.

“Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Algeria ratified, governments must ensure the right to freedom of religion, thought, and conscience of everyone under their jurisdiction, and in particular religious minorities. This right includes the freedom to exercise the religion or belief of one’s choice publicly or privately, alone or with others.”   https://www.hrw.org/print/334972

On 31 October 2019, Brother Rachid referred to “Algeria’s Closure of Christian Churches,” in his weekly program on Satellite TV Al-Karma.

The following is a translation of the main points from the 58-minute program that includes testimonies of Algerian pastors who underwent persecution. Brother Rachid began by referring to a statement issued by the Algerian Interior Minister bragging about the action of his government, “We have closed 49 Stables that were operating illegally!” An arrogant and shameful manner for describing Christian churches.

Thanks to the modern means of communication, Brother Rachid talked to Pastor Salah Chalah, the minister of the largest Christian Church in the country, with 1200 to 1400 members. The church was issued a permit by the Algerian government in 2014. It’s important to note that Christian churches are to be found not only among the Kabylesi, but throughout Algeria. Members of the church had taken photos of worship services showing men, women, and children sitting together, dressed in their best, and listening to the pastor’s sermon. When the authorities decided to close the church, photos were taken by members of the congregation showing policemen and policewomen forcefully evicting worshippers by dragging them away from the sanctuary. Church doors were sealed, with notices explaining the reason for the closure ordered by the Interior Ministry. When a member of the congregation erected a make-shift tent outside the building, he was arrested, and fined.

Brother Rachid engaged the pastor in a series of questions. “What do you do in your churches?” “We preach the Injeel (Good News),” responded, adding several quotations from the Sermon of the Mount. By the way, added the pastor, “our worship services are usually attended by informers who report about our church meetings. The authorities are quite aware of the type of messages and teachings that go on at the church. We are peaceful, we love Algeria, and pray for those in authority over us, as the Bible commands.”

In contrast with the repressive actions of the authorities, several members of the Algerian society sympathized with Algerian Christians. In fact, Algerian Muslims and Mulhidun (Arabic for Unbelievers or Atheists) manifested their solidarity with the Christians and encouraged them to fight for their rights.

Brother Rachid spoke with another minister, Pastor Ali who reported about the closure of 12 to 13 churches in his part of the country. When asked, why was the persecution happening at this time, he gave the following answer:

“During most of 2019, mass demonstrations have been going on protesting the attempt of the ailing President Bouteflika (who had served in this position since 1999) to run for another term. Eventually, he handed his position to the Algerian Army High Command, This arrangement was unacceptable to the people who demanded a regime change. So, the Government’s attack on the Christians was meant to deflect the attention of the demonstrators from their legitimate goal and prove the Government’s readiness to defend of Islam against the encroachment by alien faiths.” 
Further information came to light during Brother Rachid’s communication with the Algerian Christian leadership. The number of Christian Algerians stands around 100,000. Half-way during the telecast, comments from the audience came from North Africa, Western Europe and the USA. One Algerian pointed to the fact that Muslims living in the West enjoy freedom of worship and of propagating their faith without any hindrance. Why then, he asked, there exists no Quid Pro Quo treatment for Christians and for other religious groups, such as the Ahmadisii, Bahaisiii, and Shi’ites, in North African lands! Indeed.

Sadly, Western governments show little or no concern for this anomaly, and seldom raise questions with Muslim governments about the mistreatment of their Christian citizens. I’m thankful that Human Watch and Brother Rachid have brought this tragic situation to our attention, so that we may join them in an effort to spread information on this vital subject, with the hope that religious discrimination and persecution end worldwide. 


To watch Brother Rachid’s program on Algeria, please follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sdWQJOX9_o&feature=youtu.be

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Kabyles is a term used by the French colonialists to refer to Algerians of non-Arab background, i.e. to the original inhabitants of North Africa known as the Amazigh. Prior to the Islamic conquest, some Amazigh were Christian, among them Saint Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo. In recent years, Amazigh have achieved governmental recognition of their language and culture, in Algeria and Morocco.

ii Ahmadis are followers of the Ahmadiyya sect, an Islamic revival or messianic movement founded in Punjab, British India, in the late 19th century. It originated with the life and teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed to have been divinely appointed as both the promised Mahdi and Messiah expected by Muslims to appear towards the end times.

iii The Bahá'í Faith teaches the essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all people. Established by Bahá'u'lláh in 1863, it initially grew in Persia and parts of the Middle East, where it has faced ongoing persecution since its inception. Its leader is buried in Haifa, Israel; a Bahai Temple is found in Wilmette, Illinois, USA.