During this Advent, churches across Britain will once again open their doors to both the regular faithful, along with not-so-faithful but much desired and warmly welcomed seasonal visitors. The pews in many churches will swell with those looking for their Christmas fix of candlelight and choral songs. We take for granted that these places of worship will be open for us to meet together weekly, or perhaps less regularly, for our corporate acts of worship.
In Algeria, those who long to gather to celebrate their Saviour’s birth don’t enjoy that certainty. Of the 47 churches of l’Église Protestante d’Algérie (the EPA), 43 have been issued orders to close by the repressive authoritarian government.
The law they use to justify these closure orders seems reasonable enough – churches should have permits to operate as places of worship. The problem is that, in spite of all the efforts made by the EPA’s leaders to comply with the law and submit applications for these permits, not one has been issued since the law was placed on the statute books in 2006. One Christian leader reports that an official let slip during an interrogation that the Algerian authorities planned to shutter every church in the country. Church closure orders are just one of a number of common methods by which the Algerian authorities systematically violate the religious freedom of their citizens.
One senior church leader has been convicted of defying the closure order, quietly and peacefully exercising his faith and his responsibility to those under his spiritual care. Pastor Youssef Ourahmane oversees a number of congregations in the city of Tizi Ouzou in the Kabilye region of Algeria and holds the position of the vice president of the EPA. He is also a dual national, with British citizenship.