Pastor Rabah Messaoudi had won a legal battle in 2017 after local officials in the Muslim country tried to close his church in Ait-Jimaa village, 45 kilometers (27 miles) from Tizi-Ouzou in north-central Algeria. But the head of Ait-Bouadou Commune (County) and a district official in Tizi Ouzou Province in Kabylie Region were determined to do away with the Christian presence in the area and took the matter back to court, sources said.
“And this time, the judgment was in his favor, albeit slightly below what he hoped for,” the pastor’s attorney, Nadjib Sadek, told Morning Star News. “Because his lawyers had asked for financial compensation, which the judge found unfounded and did not allow.”
The Ait-Bouadou official and his five lawyers used Algeria’s 2006 law on religion, commonly known as Law 03/06, to close the church, which requires non-Muslim places of worship to register with government officials, though they are slow to grant permission if they act at all.
The Ait-Bouadou official had ordered Pastor Messaoudi to stop all Christian activity on the church premises in 2016, on grounds that its building permit was for residential and commercial purposes, Sadek said. The local officials filed the order on Feb. 18, 2016 after receiving notice from someone who attended worship and confirmed that the building was being used for religious activity, according to court documents.
Pastor Messaoudi and other church leaders, backed by officials of the Protestant Church of Algeria umbrella organization (EPA), refused to comply, citing that the order was a clear case of religious persecution.
The pastor received the closure notice on Sunday (Dec. 30) after being summoned to a local office in Boghni. The closure judgment, dated Oct. 29, 2018, was issued by the administrative court of Tizi-Ouzou.
Attorney Sadek said he would appeal.
“These people do not let go and are ready to go all the way, but we will fight, even if we have to go to the supreme court,” Sadek told Morning Star News. “We reproach the absence of this famous national commission that is supposed to sit to deliberate in order to affirm the authenticity of all those churches affiliated to the EPA, which only need to function in all peace and legality. ”
The EPA has 45 affiliated churches throughout the country with nearly 50,000 Christians.
Since November 2017, “building-safety committees” have visited most EPA-affiliated churches and inquired about licenses required by the 2006 law regulating non-Muslim worship, according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC). Officials have yet to issue any license for a church building under the regulation, according to MEC.
Several churches have since received written orders to cease all activities, and authorities have closed a number of them for operating without a license, including one on Oct. 16.
Islam is the state religion in Algeria, where 99 percent of the population of 40 million are Muslim. Since 2000, thousands of Algerian Muslims have put their faith in Christ.
Algerian officials estimate the number of Christians at 50,000, but others say it could be twice that number.
Algeria ranked 42nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.