US politicians blast Algeria for church closures

Algerian authorities shut one church because it ‘celebrates non-Muslim worship’

Doug Lamborn
BERLIN – US congressmen on Friday sharply criticized Algeria’s government, in a letter obtained by The Jerusalem Post, for permitting the persecution of Christians in the North African state.
“We have reason to believe these church closures are a part of a campaign under the previous leadership of Algeria to hinder Christians from freely exercising their faith and religion,” wrote Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado, 5th District) as the lead author of the letter.
The letter added that: “These reports [of church closures] are troubling as the Algerian constitution clearly outlines freedom of religion for all. These closures… are a clear hindrance to the free practice and exercise of religion in Algeria. These freedoms must be guaranteed for all Algerians.”
Congressmen Steve King, Christopher H. Smith and Ron Wright also signed the letter, which was addressed to Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
Algeria’s constitution states that “freedom of creed and opinion is inviolable.”
Lamborn wrote that, "Last fall, I led several of my fellow members of the United States Congress in contacting the government of Algeria regarding some very concerning reports of church closures taking place. As you may know, 13 churches around Algeria remain closed by the government since November 2017. The closures culminated in October 2019, when the authorities closed the most sizeable churches in the country, including the Protestant Church of the Full Gospel of Tizi-Ozou.”
The letter noted that “During one of the church closures, eight police officers enforcing orders from the governor of Tizi-Ozou Province sealed the doors and windows of a Protestant church building in Boghni. The officers also posted a notice on the door explaining their actions. The notice read, ‘We, the police of Boghni, inform the whole population of Boghni that the premises illegally used by the named Tahar Chergui to celebrate non-Muslim worship was closed and sealed by order of the governor dated September 18, 2019. Signed by the president of district security.”’
The US politicians urged Tebboune to “strongly encourage additional constitutional protections and other legal structures be created for all Algerian to practice the faith of their choosing. We urge your government to allow the churches which you have already closed to reopen, and create a viable means by which churches may obtain full authorization to operate."
The letter continued that "The best defense against those who seek to undermine human rights is to protect each individual’s right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This freedom is prerequisite for all the other freedoms that we believe in."
The population of Algeria totals 43,000,000 and Sunni Islam is the country's dominant religion – 99% of the population, according to a 2017 US State Department estimate.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) included Algeria in its 2020 annual report of the world’s worst religious freedom violators for the first time. “The [Algerian] government,” wrote USCIRF, “systematically cracked down on the Evangelical Protestant community.”
The organization International Christian Concern (ICC) praised the congressional letter organized by Lamborn.
“It will certainly deliver a much needed additional point of pressure to the Algerian leadership. Algeria needs to know that the world is watching, and the government of Algeria should take note of what its allies are saying in order to develop stronger relationships with the global community,” ICC said on Monday.
“We are excited to see the letter come to a completion,” said Matias Perttula, who serves as ICC’s advocacy director. “The letter is timely, as the USCIRF report rightly recommended Algeria to be added to the State Department’s Watchlist. All of these efforts should serve as a wake-up call to the Algerian government to move the country in a direction of greater religious freedom for all Algerians.”