Authorities of the Islamic nation of Algeria have closed down three Christian churches in what critics describe as “direct violations of the right to religious freedom,” Crux reported Tuesday.
According to Kelsey Zorzi, director of the global religious freedom office of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), these recent church closures would be “part of a larger scheme to interfere with and ultimately drive out religious minority groups.”
“These closures constitute direct violations of the right to religious freedom, which includes the right to worship in community with others,” Zorzi told Crux.
Employing a legal technique used in communist China and elsewhere, the Algerian government has justified the church closings by citing concerns over building safety regulations and a lack of permits.
In her interview with Crux, Zorzi also pointed out that shutting down churches is not the only tactic used to persecute Christians in the north African country, whose population is 99.7 percent Muslim.
Christians have been “increasingly tar/geted under the country’s archaic blasphemy laws which allow for harsh punishments for religiously dissident speech,” she said. “Also concerning is the recent effort on behalf of the government to compile information about Christian and atheist teachers in Tizi Ouzou Province and share it with the national intelligence agency.”
In its 2021 Annual Report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the State Department add Algeria to its Special Watch List (SWL) based on its government’s “perpetration or toleration of severe violations.”
The report noted that during 2020, religious freedom conditions in Algeria remained poor, with the government engaging in the “systematic repression of Christians.”
It also cited a constitutional referendum passed in November 2020 removing language protecting “freedom of conscience” for all Algerians, which has raised concerns that the government may use this alteration to oppress religious minorities further.
Home of the famous Christian doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine of Hippo (the modern-day city of Annaba), Algeria adopted the religion of Islam in its constitution of 1963, following the war of independence. In subsequent versions of the constitution, the establishment of Islam as state religion has endured.