Published: 15:00 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 12 August 2011
“Historic day” for Algerian Christians as Church granted official recognition
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Algeria
Algerian Christians are rejoicing after the country's Protestant Church Association was given official recognition by the government; it cancels out a threatening closure notice from the police for all unregistered churches.
Algerian Christians at worship
The head of the Algerian Protestant Church Association, Eglise Protestant d'Algerie (EPA) received the licence, which grants all of its affiliated churches the right to meet and worship freely, from the Minister of Interior on 18 July. It was described as "an historic day in Algeria for the Algerian believers in Christ" by a senior Christian leader.
The EPA, to which the majority of Algerian Protestant churches belong, now has the right to rent, buy and/or build property for Christian activities.
It is a remarkable turnaround for the EPA, which though registered in the past, has repeatedly failed to obtain legal status under stringent regulations introduced in 2006 since its former licence expired. Its affiliated churches have been subjected to frequent harassment and sporadic closures by the authorities. These climaxed in May with a police notice that threatened the permanent closure of all Christian places of worship throughout the country that had not been designated for religious purposes.
Following the police closure order, which threatened "severe consequences and punishments" for those in breach, a senior magistrate came out in support of churches in his region. The Wali of Bejaia assured EPA leaders that no church under his jurisdiction would be closed and that he would personally see to the protection and continuity of the Protestant Church's activities.
The licence from the government now extends that protection to EPA churches throughout the country. Individual churches will still need to register with their local authorities, and Algerian Christians request prayer that this process will go smoothly; numerous past applications have been met with no response. Non EPA-affiliated churches remain unprotected because they have no official recognition.
Christian leaders are still pushing for reform in Algeria and want the 2006 regulations to be repealed; these continue to restrict evangelism and the distribution of Christian literature.
Algerian Christian Siagh Krimo was sentenced to five years in jail on 25 May, accused of blasphemy after sharing his faith with a Muslim neighbour. An appeal against this sentence has been lodged and will be heard at the Algerian Supreme Court on 29 September.
Despite harassment and persecution from the authorities and Muslim-majority community, the Protestant Church in Algeria, which is comprised mainly of Muslim converts and their children, continues to enjoy remarkable growth. There are now tens of thousands of Christians, whereas back in the 1970s there were very few.