Tuesday, March 9, 2021

RLPB 588. Algeria: Fragile State; Intense Spiritual Struggle

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 588 | Wed 10 Mar 2021
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ALGERIA: FRAGILE STATE: INTENSE SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge

On 27 February officials in Oran - a coastal city some 420km west of Algiers - paid a visit to the Oratoire (place of worship) church. They came bearing a notice informing Pastor Rachid Seighir and Nouh Hamimi (a salesman in Seighir's Christian bookstore) that they had both been fined 500,000 Algerian dinars (almost three times the average monthly salary in Algeria) and sentenced to two years in prison for 'agitating the faith of Muslims' in violation of Presidential Order 06-03 (March 2006) which 'fixes the conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other than Muslim'. Article 11.2 of Order 06-03 prescribes a criminal penalty of a fine and between two and five years in prison upon anyone who 'makes, stores, or distributes printed documents or audio-visual productions ... [intended] to shake the faith of a Muslim'. As nobody was at the church, the officials simply slipped the notification under the door.

This is merely the latest round in a long-running struggle that commenced in 2008 when Pastor Seighir was charged with the same offence only to be acquitted on appeal. In 2017 officials raided Pastor Seighir's Christian bookstore, seizing literature and property. Subsequently, the governor (wali) of Oran Province ordered the bookstore be closed. Pastor Seighir appealed and, in April 2018, the court overruled, deeming the governor's closure order invalid. Regardless, the governor kept the bookshop closed. In May 2019, after another appeal, the court ordered the bookstore be unsealed and permitted to reopen. Yet again, the governor refused to comply. In October 2019 the Administrative Court not only ordered the bookstore be unsealed and re-opened, it also ordered that compensation be paid to the owner. Despite repeated court orders, the governor has never yielded to the court. Consequently, the bookshop has been sealed shut for four years. Furthermore, Pastor Seighir continues the struggle to obtain registration for his church as required by Order 06-03. It is not enough that Oratoire is affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria umbrella body (l'Eglise Protestante d'Algerie or EPA), an organisation founded in 1974 and officially recognised in 2011. According to Order 06-03, each church building must obtain its own registration; something no church has been granted since the law came into force.

 Pastor Rachid Seighir, and Oratoire church, Oran, Algeria. 

BLASPHEMY: Hamid (34) is a poultry farmer in El-Ayaida, 34km east of Oran city in Oran Province. Married with four children, (ages 6, 4 and 3 years, and an infant aged 4 months), Hamid has known Jesus since 2001. In 2018, Hamid shared a caricature of Muhammad on his Facebook account. On 20 January 2021 police took Hamid into custody and questioned him over the 2018 Facebook post. After viewing a screenshot of the post, supplied by Algeria's cyber-crime unit, the prosecutor recommended that Hamid be charged with insulting Islam's prophet. In the trial which took place the very next day, the court found Hamid guilty and sentenced him to the maximum punishment: five years in prison. Pastor Seighir attended the trial and is certain that in posting the image, Hamid had merely acted naively, without malice. 'It is a tragedy for us and for his family,' he lamented. Hamid will appeal the sentence. Middle East Concern also reports that two Christians converts from the Kabylie area were also recently convicted of blasphemy. They received fines and prison sentences of six months and three years respectively.

POLITICS: Protests erupted on 22 February 2019 ahead of pivotal presidential election scheduled for April. Within weeks, the military had switched sides, opting to sacrifice the incapacitated four-term President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (82) while keeping the deep state in place. The election was postponed. Still not satisfied, Hirak (movement) protests continued each week, beyond the sham election in December 2019, until March 2020 when COVID-19 put everything on pause [see RLPB 531, Algeria: Persecution, Protests and Promise (4 Dec 2019)]. Despite all President Tebboune's efforts at appeasement, protests resumed on 22 February 2021 as Algerians continue to demand systemic structural change.

Persecution - mostly in the form of shuttering churches - escalated markedly in the years leading up to the pivotal April 2019 elections as the regime persisted with its two-pronged strategy: feign reform to win favour and legitimacy at the UN and throughout the West, while playing the Islam card and repressing Christianity to win favour and legitimacy among the Muslim majority at home. However, it is a game the regime no longer needs to play. For like the UN, the West is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Not only is Algeria integral to the Chinese Communist Party's Belt & Road Initiative, but Chinese investment is integral to the Algerian regime's 'New Algeria' dream. Fortunately, as Jayson Casper reports for Christianity Today (CT, 22 February), Algeria's Protestant leaders know where to place their faith. As Salah Chalah, president of the EPA, told CT: 'We love our country and we regularly pray for its prosperity... I would like to ask all Christians in the world to continue to pray for us.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene on behalf of Pastor Rachid Seighir, salesman Nouh Hamimi and poultry farmer Hamid as they appeal the charges and sentences handed to them: may their families be sustained; may their lawyers have wisdom; may the appeals court rule fairly and may all charges be dropped. May God redeem this stressful situation to the benefit of his Church and to the glory of Christ.

* turn the heart of Messaoud Djari, the Governor (wali) of Oran Province since August 2020, that he will lean towards tolerance and acceptance and cease the persecution of Oran's Oratoire church and Christian bookstore.

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

* mercifully intervene in Algeria, a fragile state harbouring deep spiritual conflict; may he turn the heart of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune that he will lean towards tolerance and openness; may Presidential Order 06-03 be amended or repealed so that the Gospel of Peace may be freely shared throughout the land, from the coast to the mountains to the deserts and beyond.

Please pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will continue to build his Church in Algeria (Matthew 16:18).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ALGERIA: FRAGILE STATE; INTENSE SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE

Algeria's Presidential Order 06-03 [March 2006] regulates 'religious worship other than Muslim'. It mandates that buildings used for non-Muslim worship must be registered with the authorities. To date, not a single church has been granted registration. Article 11.2 of Order 06-03 criminalises the making, storing or distribution of any material intended to 'shake the faith of a Muslim'. On 27 February authorities in Oran notified Pastor Rachid Seighir of Oratoire (place of worship) church, and Nouh Hamimi, a salesman in Seighir's Christian bookstore, that they had been fined and sentenced to two years' jail for breaching Article 11.2 of Order 06-03. Weeks earlier a convert named Hamid (34, married with 4 young children) was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to five years' jail over a Facebook post from 2018. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com