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).