Algeria intensifies harassment of religious minorities 

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After a two month lull, following heavy criticism on the forced closure of Christian churches in the Kabylie region, the authorities in Algeria resumed their repression against Christians this week, ordering the closure of two other Protestant churches in the province of Oran, located in El Ayaida district and in the center of Oran city. The closure happened with the insistence and direct involvement of the governor of Oran, who went through the regional administrative court to obtain a court order for the closure of the churches. The two churches are affiliated to the Association of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), which has a formal authorization issued by the Algerian state in 1974. The approval of the EPA is valid and legal, because it has carried out all the steps to bring it into conformity with the legislative and regulatory texts published since, including the new law on associations issued in 2012.

In October 2019, Human Rights Watch criticized Algeria treatment of the tiny Protestant community, after the police raided and shut the biggest Protestant church in the country, the Full Gospel Church, in Tizi Ouzou, on 15 October 2019, and assaulted worshipers, including Salah Chalah, the church’s pastor and president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (Eglise Protestante d’Algérie, EPA). The following day, police sealed two other churches in Tizi Ouzou province. On 17 October, police arrested, and later released, dozens of Protestants who were protesting the crackdown in front of the Tizi Ouzou governorate, bringing to 12 the number of Protestant churches the authorities have closed since November 2018. With these two latest closures in Oran, the number of churches closed by the Algerian authorities reaches 14.

The Protestant community is not the only one targeted by the Algerian authorities. Followers of the Ahmadiya faction of Islam have also been subjected to judicial harassment in Algeria, according to their lawyers. Ahmadia is a reformist school of thought formed in the late 19th century in India. After several months of relative peace, the Ahmadis are once again experiencing a new cycle of harassment from the authorities. Several followers of this reformist current of Islam have been summoned by the justice system, mainly in the northeastern city of Constantine. A prominent lawyer of the Ahmadis, Salah Dabbouz, who is currently a refugee in Belgium, said many of his clients based in the east of the country, were summoned by the Prosecutor’s Office, which confiscated their travel documents. The investigating judge placed the Ahamadi faithful under judicial supervision, for “forming an illegal association not recognized by law”. The targeted people mainly reside in Constantine, M’sila, Tizi Ouzou, Algiers and Oum El-Bouaghi. Lawyers in Algeria expect more Ahmadis to be summoned by other jurisdictions in other province across the country. It should be recalled that several people affiliated to this group have been prosecuted and tried for their membership of what the authorities have already described as an “illegal sect.” According to the Algerian League of Human Rights (LADDH), nearly 300 people have suffered judicial harassment for belonging to the Ahmadi school of thought.

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