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Christians in Algeria

  • Christianity was introduced in Algeria during Roman times. It declined during the Vandal invasions, but gained strength again during the Byzantine era, before gradually disappearing with the Arab invasions in the seventh century. In 2009, UN sources reported the existence of 45,000 Roman Catholics and between 50,000 and 100,000 Protestants. Some sources report that the number of conversions to Christianity has increased slightly in recent years; however, the figures remain very modest, with approximately 0.2 per cent of Christians in Algeria in 2009. Conversions are concentrated mainly in Kabylie, particularly in the wilaya of Tizi Ouzou, which hosts between 1 per cent and 5 per cent of Christians.

    Algeria is home to several important Christian monuments. The Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Afrique lies west of Algiers, perched 124 meters above sea level. The Santa Cruz chapel in Oran, classified as a national monument in 2008, was the site of the beatification ceremony that took place in 2018 for the 19 Roman Catholic clergy who were murdered during the violence of the mid-1990’s. The largest Protestant church in the whole of the Maghreb is located in Tizi Ouzou, where weddings and funerals are celebrated.

    Islam is unquestionably ‘the religion of the state’ as clearly stated in Article 2 of the 2020 Algerian Constitution. Article 73 of the 2016 Constitution affirmed that the President of the Republic must be of Muslim faith and must take an oath ‘to respect and glorify the Islamic religion’. In the 2020 Constitution, the same oath is specified in Article 90. However, this does not prevent the presence and free exercise of other beliefs.

    Ordinance No. 06-03 of 2006 sets out the conditions and rules for the exercise of religions other than Isl. It expressly guarantees ‘the free exercise of worship’ and states that ‘the State also guarantees tolerance and respect between different religions’. The ‘free exercise of worship’ established by the 2006 law is nevertheless strictly regulated. It is subject to respect for ‘public order, morality and the fundamental rights and freedoms of third parties’. But above all, the collective exercise of worship is confined to the buildings assigned for this purpose by the Algerian authorities.  Religious groups suspected of attempting to convert Muslims are particularly vulnerable to spurious charges and find themselves under near-constant surveillance. This leads to persecution of Ahmadis, Ibadis and evangelical Christians.

    Ordinance No. 06-03 is used to restrict the free exercise of Christian worship in Algeria. Indeed, it forbids any religious activity of a non-Islamic religious group if it is not registered and recognized by the Ministry of the Interior and the National Commission of Religious Organizations, the latter operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Additionally, the Ordinance forbids ‘the use of a place of worship if it is not registered’.

    Human rights organizations have repeatedly noted a pattern whereby all requests to register non-Muslim associations are indefinitely deferred. This obstruction persists, as per a statement of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) submitted in August 2021 for the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council, reporting that no license had been issued by the National Commission of Religious Organizations since its creation in 2006.

    In its 2020 annual report, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) indicated that the Algerian authorities had closed around a dozen Christian churches in Kabylie since July 2019 for lack of a license, and that the police had violently removed Amazigh worshippers from them.

    Security forces have continued to target Christians who have converted from Islam. On 31 July 2016, Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian Christian, was arrested on charges related to expressing his Christian beliefs. He was originally sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine, but the sentence was reduced to three years on appeal and the fine was dropped. In July 2017, President Bouteflika granted Slimane a partial pardon, reducing the sentence by a further 16 months. Bouhafs was released from prison on 31 March 2018, having served his twenty-month sentence. In August 2018 he sought asylum in Tunisia and was granted refugee status in September 2020 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tunisia. In August 2021, eyewitnesses reported that cars with unknown license plates arrived at the house where the Algerian activist lived and took him to an unknown destination. Algerian media later reported that Bouhafs was handed over by the Tunisian authorities to their Algerian counterpart, where he will be submitted to Algerian justice.

    Multiple reports indicate that members of the Christian community are subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention, notably based on Algeria’s blasphemy laws. For instance, Hamid Soudad, a 42-year-old Christian, converted from Islam, is considered to have ‘offended the Prophet’ under Article 144-bis 2 of the Penal Code, on account of a Facebook post he shared in 2018.  His five-year maximum prison sentence was upheld by the Oran City Court of Justice on 22 March 2021. Soudad is waiting to have his case heard at the Supreme Court which could take two to three years’, during which he will remain imprisoned.

    Similarly, in December 2020, two Kabyle Christians, Abdelghani Mammeri and Mebrouk Bouakaz, were respectively sentenced to six months and three years’ imprisonment and heavily fined for offending the Prophet and showing disrespect to Islamic religious principles.


Updated January 2023

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