Algeria Returns Church Amid Worries About Detained Pastor And Assistant
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – Algerian Christians are pleased that authorities returned a church building but remain concerned about a pastor and fellow Christian sentenced to two years in jail for “shaking the faith of Muslims.”
The church building in northwest Mostaganem province is one of several historically recognized places of worship taken over by local authorities, Christians said.
The EPA, the umbrella organization for Protestant Churches in Algeria (Église Protestante d’Algérie), requested the return of these buildings for more than a decade.
However, those using the properties refused to return them, prompting long-running court cases, said Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
“The church building in Mostaganem was used as a public health center until 2011. When the health center moved, local authorities leased the building to another health organization,” MEC explained. That’s why “in 2012 the EPA launched legal procedures requesting the return of the building,” the group told Worthy News.
“A verdict was issued in May 2019, but authorities failed to implement it in the two months required by law. The building was finally returned to the EPA this month.”
The standoff underscored concerns among minority Christians about 2006 legislation that prohibits non-Muslim worship in buildings not designated for that purpose by a national commission. “However, since 2006, that commission has not issued a single license. Since November 2017, many Protestant church buildings have been visited by so-called “building safety” committees,” MEC said.
“These committees not only inspect safety compliance but also ask for permits under the 2006 Ordinance,” the group complained. “To date, authorities have ordered 20 churches to cease their activities. Sixteen of these churches had their buildings sealed, while three were allowed to reopen.”
Amid the turmoil in the Muslim-majority nation, Christians also remain concerned about the plight of Pastor Rachid Seighir and Nouh Hamimi. Both men have appealed against their two-year prison sentence for “shaking the faith” of Muslims with Christian literature available in their church-operated bookstore.
Although the appeal of their sentence was heard on May 16, their verdict was to be handed down Sunday, May 30, Worthy News learned.
The recent ruling followed a reported raid on the Algerian church-run shop in September 2017. Additionally, Pastor Rachid’s Oratoire Church in Oran, the second most important city of Algeria, was ordered to close in late 2019.
Algerian Christians in the troubled areas have requested prayer for free worship and an end to church closures, representatives said.
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