Propagating non-Islamic religions is forbidden under Sharia. That is bad enough, but of course, the “crime” of bearing witness to one’s faith in public lies somewhat in the eye of the beholder. Ultimately, to continue to exist in daily life while self-identifying as a non-Muslim — perhaps even having the unmitigated gall to do so joyfully — is to make a non-Islamic faith visible, and to risk becoming a target. “Algeria: Clampdown on Protestants, 7 churches closed,” from ANSAMed, May 24 (thanks to Nigel):
(ANSAmed) – ALGIERS, MAY 24 – A new clampdown on Christian protestants in Algeria. The Algerian ‘wilaya’ (province) of Bejaia has ordered 7 places of worship of this religious group to be closed. The measure, el Watan reports on its website, was issued on May 8. It was made executive on the 22nd and announced yesterday. Sources in the Vatican nunciature in Algiers have told ANSAmed that Catholic churches are not affected by the measure, and that the measure does not regard national territory.
The Algerians may also see an easier target in local, unaffiliated churches, who have no diplomatic recourse as Catholic communities would through the church hierarchy.
Mustapha Krim, president of the Protestant Church in Algeria, has appealed against the measure, which speaks in general terms of the closing of places of worship ”for religious worship other than the Islam”. Krim has said that he has visited the Ministry of Religious Affairs in an attempt to postpone the implementation of the measure. He underlined that he has not been informed about it in time. Protestants, a rapidly growing movement in Algeria, has been targeted for several years by the Islamic religious authorities and civilians.
The government accuses the Protestants of proselytism, a serious crime in a country where Islam is the State religion and Muslims are not allowed to convert to other religions. In Algeria, other religions than the Islam can register and obtain an official status, provided they will not try to recruit new followers among the local population. The small Catholic community in fact counts nearly only foreign members, with a few Algerians from the time of French colonialism. The attitude of the Protestants is different: in 2001 some North American Protestant ministers started preaching in the Berber region Kabylie. According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, today there are around 50 thousand Protestants in the country, with 10 thousand observant Protestants divided in 33 communities.
In 2006, the Algerian government passed a law that punishes anyone who tries to convert a Muslim to Christianity, punishable with two to five years in prison and fines ranging from five to ten thousand euros. Several Protestant churches have been closed in the past. Early in 2010 a Protestant place of worship in Tizi-Ouzou, around 60 km east of Algiers, was attacked and set on fire by groups of Muslim extremists; the police did not intervene. (ANSAmed).