Is Religious Freedom Attainable for Algeria's Christians?

Aidan Clay | International Christian Concern | Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is Religious Freedom Attainable for Algeria's Christians?

ALGERIA (ANS) -- Following reports in May of churches closing and a Christian being issued a five-year prison sentence for blasphemy, there is finally some positive news coming out of Algeria.

For the first time in 20 years, the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) was given government permission to officially register its congregations throughout the country.

The government’s decision came three months after the governor and police commissioner in the province of Béjaia ordered seven EPA churches to close for “exercising religious worship other than Islam without authorization.” Similar orders had been issued in the past. On April 23, 2011, an EPA church in Makouda, near Tizi Ouzou, was given 48 hours to shut its doors.

Despite the provincial authorities’ order, churches continued to hold services. “We worship out of conviction,” a member of an EPA church in Béjaia told the Algerian daily La Dépêche de Kabylie. “We are not afraid, because we did nothing wrong.”

To ease tensions between local authorities and Protestant churches under their jurisdiction, the Ministry of Interior presented documents approving the EPA’s legal status to EPA president Mustapha Krim on July 18, 2011.

“This is good news for the Protestant Church of Algeria,” Krim told Algérie Plus. “We are pleased with the promise made by the Minister of the Interior. We are delighted that they took the time to understand our situation and finally the Minister of Interior and local government kept their word after … we expressed our concern over the closure of our seven churches in the wilaya [administrative division] of Béjaia.”

According to Krim, 27 EPA churches and about a dozen independent churches will now be able to apply for registration. However, the registration process for each Protestant congregation is expected to be slow, possibly taking as long as one to two years. Additionally, the EPA is required to renew its legal status with the Ministry of Interior every four years.

Meanwhile, the biggest barrier facing religious minorities is a controversial law introduced in 2006 that regulates non-Muslim worship. Ordinance 06-03 prohibits Christians from holding services without government authorization and outlaws religious practices that conflict with the government's interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law).

“We are continuing efforts to repeal, or at least revise, the 2006 law,” Krim told International Christian Concern. “We expect the new legislation granted to the EPA to be favorable to our cause.”

Algerian Christians are waiting to see whether or not the Algerian government is sincere about reforming policies that have previously violated the rights of religious minorities. While they view the legalization of the EPA as a positive step forward, real change will not occur until Ordinance 06-03 is overturned.

Additionally, Algerian Christians are keeping a close eye on the trial of Siagh Krimo, who was issued a five-year prison sentence in Oran for giving a CD about Christianity to his neighbor. Krimo was accused by his neighbor of blasphemy against Islam and was sentenced according to Article 144 bis 2 of Algeria’s Penal Code. The article criminalizes acts that “insult the prophet and any of the messengers of God, or denigrate the creed and precepts of Islam.”

Krimo appealed the verdict and is scheduled to reappear in court on September 29, 2011, where the judge will decide if his sentence will be upheld. To many Algerian Christians, Krimo’s verdict will determine how strong a stance the government is willing to take to defend the future religious rights of Christians.

Note: Algeria, officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa. In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa, the Arab world and of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea; it is also the tenth-largest country in the world. The country is bordered in the northeast by Tunisia, in the east by Libya, in the west by Morocco, in the southwest by Western Sahara, Mauritania and Mali, in the southeast by Niger, and in the north by the Mediterranean Sea. Its size is almost 2,400,000 square kilometers (926,645 square miles).

Aidan Clay is the Middle East Regional Manager for International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington, DC-based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide by providing awareness, advocacy and assistance ( Aidan is a graduate from Biola University. Prior to joining ICC, Aidan worked with Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and Africa. He currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya. For more information, contact Aidan Clay at [email protected].

Publication date: September 21, 2011