Algeria’s Christians Face New Threats to Religious Freedom With Coronavirus Lockdowns and Changes to Country’s Constitution

Notre Dame d’Afrique, a Roman Catholic basilica in Algiers, is among the churches closed by order of the Algerian government. With congregations forbidden to meet in person, satellite TV broadcasts are one of the few options Christians have for growing in the faith in the northern African nation, which is 99% Muslim. | Magharebia, Creative Commons

The small contingent of Christians in Algeria are facing a twofold threat: the government closing their churches due to the novel coronavirus and a new provision in the Constitution, possibly reducing religious freedom.

“While we’re facing great uncertainty with new restrictions in the U.S., churches in Algeria are already shuttered and silenced,” said Rex Rogers, president of SAT-7, a nonprofit Christian broadcaster beaming Gospel programs into the North African country. The firm recently started airing a program in the Kabiyle dialect, which has believers among its 6 million speakers.

The U.S. State Department estimates that no more than one in 200 Algerians is Christian. Over 99% of the population is Muslim, the vast majority Sunni.

The country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs hires and trains Muslim imams even though Algeria technically is not a religious state. And the government only engages in activities consistent with Islamic values.

While Muslims may convert to other faiths, Algerian law forbids trying to lead them away from Islam. Anyone who “incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction intending to convert a Muslim to another religion; or by using to this end establishments of teaching, education, health, social, culture, training … or any financial means” faces a maximum of $8,500 in fines and five years’ imprisonment, according to the relevant statute.

Several arrests of Christians for proselytizing preceded a crackdown on congregations that began in 2019 and culminated with all churches ordered closed earlier this year with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Algeria, as of Nov. 28, has recorded 2,393 deaths from COVID-19 among its 44 million people. That rate is 56 deaths per 1 million population.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Kyle Huckins