Algeria Charged with Violating Religious Freedom After Forcing 16 Evangelical Churches to Close

A bipartisan U.S. government watchdog is calling for action against Algeria for forcing at least 16 evangelical churches to close in the past few years.

Algeria enforces severe restrictions against religious minorities, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released a new report sounding the alarm on Algeria’s persecution of Christians, including the arrest of people accused of “blasphemy” and “proselytization.”


USCIRF noted in the document, “The Algerian Constitution considers the right to opinion ‘inviolable’ and also protects the right to worship if it is exercised in accordance with the law. Algeria ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1989.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan body led by volunteer commissioners who advise the U.S. government and Congress, released a factsheet this month on religious freedom conditions in Algeria, the world’s largest Arab nation by landmass with a 99% Sunni Muslim population. 

The report warns that the North African country’s penal code and Ordinance 06-03 regulation on non-Muslim organizations are “inconsistent with international legal protections for freedom of religion or belief.” Specifically, the watchdog body states that Algeria’s violating the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, a framework the country ratified in 1989.

“In recent years, the Algerian government has increasingly enforced these laws, imprisoning individuals on blasphemy and proselytization charges,” the report stresses. “It has also interpreted other legal precepts in ways that infringe on Algerians’ rights to worship.”

Ordinance 06-03, passed in 2006, requires non-Muslim Algerians to worship exclusively in buildings authorized by the National Commission of Non-Muslim Worship.

Anyone who worships outside the parameters of these restrictions may be subject to one to three years of imprisonment and a roughly $710 fine.

The Algerian government has reportedly refused to acknowledge receipt of the Evangelical Protestant Association’s application for registration and has forced at least 16 EPA churches to close due to their unregistered status, the USCIRF factsheet says.

“Advocacy groups report that government authorities have pressured EPA member churches to apply for status independently of the EPA, allegedly seeking to weaken the cohesion of the Evangelical Protestant community,” the USCIRF report reads. “In November 2021, authorities charged senior EPA pastor Salaheddine Chalah and four other protestant Christians with practicing unauthorized worship; Pastor Chalah reportedly received 18 months in prison in March 2022 while those charged with him received six-month sentences.”

According to the U.S.-based watchdog group International Christian Concern, most churches in Algeria are affiliated with the EPA since it was once a legally recognized umbrella group before the passing of the 2006 law. ICC called the EPA “the most secure option for Christians” because the government once approved of the denomination.

International human rights activists have called on Algeria to reconstitute its commission for non-Muslim worship if it is not willing or able to fulfill its duties to approve major churches and denominations. 

Among churches that have been ordered to shut down in recent years is Hope Evangelical Church in Oran city, which received a closure order from a local court in January 2020. 

Article 11 of Ordinance 06-03 criminalizes proselytization. In February 2020, a court in Oran sentenced Hope Evangelical Church pastor and bookshop owner Rachid Mohamed Seighir and his bookshop assistant Mouh Hamimi to two years in prison and an approximately $3,500 fine for selling Christian literature at his bookstore. The sentences were reduced to one year, and fines were lowered to about $1,494 after an appeal. 

Police brought charges against Seighir and Hamimi for “printing, storing, or distributing materials that can ‘shake’ the faith of a Muslim” after raiding the bookshop in 2017.

Anyone who “incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction intending to convert a Muslim to another religion; or uses to this end establishments of teaching, education, health, of a social and or cultural character, training institutes, or any other establishment, or any other financial means,” is subjected to three to five years in prison and a fine of roughly $3,500–7,100.

And anyone who “makes, stores, or distributes printed documents or audiovisual footage or by any other medium or means which aim to shake the faith of a Muslim” is subject to the same penalties.

Article 12 of the ordinance punishes any individual who “collects money or accepts donations without the authorization of the legally empowered authorities” with one to three years in prison and a fine of roughly $710–$2,100.

Last year, Algerian authorities used Article 12 to prosecute Foudhil Bahloul, a Christian convert who collected donations with his parish’s help after losing his job due to his conversion, USCIRF notes.

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