By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ALGIERS, ALGERIA (BosNewsLife) -- Algerian Christians have appealed for international "prayers and support" amid a government crackdown on churches and suspected evangelists, a rights group said Monday, May 19.
Barnabas Fund, which assists allegedly persecuted Christians in Muslim nations such as Algeria, told BosNewsLife that the Northern African country of 34 million people has “seen a sharp rise in official and unofficial discrimination against [active evangelical] Christians over the last few months.”
The group said about half the country’s Protestant congregations, including some 20 churches this year alone, have been ordered to close, although “many of them were operating officially for many years.” In addition "numerous" Christians were arrested on "questionable charges," Barnabas Fund claimed.
At least 10 Protestants living or visiting the western city of Tiaret have been detained or convicted since February, Christians said. In one of the latest incidents there this month, Algerian authorities reportedly charged six Christians with distributing "illegal religious material" after detaining them as they left a prayer meeting.
The Protestants, all men, were accussed of "distributing documents to shake the faith of Muslims," before being released in Tiaret city. Their first court hearing was scheduled for May 27, believers said.
During the detainees' overnight stay at a local police station, officers allegedly threatened them for converting from Islam to Christianity. "They said we were accomplices and the spies of the Jews, thus we deserve to have our throats cut without pity," said Djillali Saibi in comments published by Christian news agency Compass Direct News.
Algerian officials have defended the crackdown, saying they act within a relative new religious law aimed at preserving the Islamic identity of the country. Yet, Barnabas Fund and other advocacy groups claim the 2006 religious legislation is aimed at restricting the religious activities of non-Muslims, especially converts to Christianity and evangelicals.
Algerian churches have been growing rapidly from a few hundred believers in the early 1980s to around 30,000 now, mostly in Protestant/evangelical churches affiliated to the Eglise Protestant d’Algerie or 'Protestant Churches Association', according to Barnabas Fund estimates.
"Over recent months, opposition to Christian evangelistic activities has been on the increase, and Islamic extremists are complaining about the government’s "lenient" approach towards Christian churches," the group added.
Barnabas Fund investigators said there are plans to create a "Commission to Fight against Christianisation" of Algeria, allegedly to pressure the government "not to be weak in the face of the crusades." Neighbouring countries have reportedly voiced "concerns" about the apparent steady growth of Christianity in Algeria.
Barnabas Fund said it has urged its supporters and Christians around the world to pressure their Algerian ambassador and the Algerian government to halt the apparently ongoing crackdown.
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