A CHURCH building in Algeria was handed back to its congregation last month: a rare victory for Christians in a country whose government has forced other Protestant churches to close.
The historic church building in the port city of Mostaganem dates back to the French colonial era. It had been given by the local authority to an Islamic charitable institution. The Algerian Protestant Church (EPA) sued and won its case in 2019, but it is only now, two years later, that the keys have been returned.
The EPA hopes to reopen the church, but all its other churches remain closed, after waves of church closures before Covid, in 2019. While mosques and Roman Catholic and Anglican churches have been allowed to reopen after Covid restrictions, no Protestant church has been able to open.
Algeria is currently ranked number 24 in the World Wide Watch List of countries in which Christians face persecution.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide said that the Protestant community was the “main target of government crackdowns”. Some of the churches forced to close in a wave of closures in 2019 had congregations of 1000 or more. The number of Christians in Algeria, an Islamic nation, is unknown, but it is suggested there could be as many as 130,000.
The charity International Christian Concern, based in the United States, said that there had been large numbers of people converting to Christianity in Algeria in recent years, and that Christianity was the fastest-growing religion there, although it remains a small proportion in a country of more than 43 million.
“We hear from pastors they are overwhelmed with the numbers. Most Protestants in Algeria are actually converts,” a spokeswoman said.
Their latest report on persecution of Christians said that, while Christianity was tolerated by the wider society, the government viewed it as “a threat to the Algerian Islamic identity . . . and is making every attempt to regulate the Church into non-existence”.
Attempts by the EPA to renew its required registration had been met with silence since 2016, and silence was the default response to any request by Protestant churches, the charity said.
The Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in Algeria are able to open, and serve a largely expatriate or student community.
The Intercontinental Church Society has a congregation in Algiers. It said: “The historic churches, the Catholics and ourselves, have managed to minister faithfully while being extremely sensitive to the culture and context.”
Canon Huw Thomas, of Holy Trinity, Algiers, said that there were still interfaith and inter-Church events in Algeria, although proselytising carried severe penalties. “Last month, our choir joined others, including a strong Sufi Muslim group, in an evening of prayer for peace at the Catholic Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Afrique. Things are more mixed here than is sometimes supposed outside the country.”