Authorities in Algeria on Wednesday (Oct. 16) closed the Tafath (Light) church building in Tizi-Ouzou, a day after sealing shut the country’s largest church despite resistance, sources said.
A third church in northern Algeria, Source of Light church in Makouda, was also closed on Tuesday (Oct. 15).
Pastor Mustapha Krireche of the Tafath (Light) church in Tizi-Ouzou said he was surprised how rapidly police acted to close the building of his 150-member congregation after summoning him to the police station. From there they quickly drove him to the church site, where more than a dozen officers were about to seal the main door.
The pastor asked them permission to gather a few items, he said.
“As soon as I arrived at the scene, seeing that they were going to seal it, I asked the officer, a lady, to give me the time to look for the keys to be able to recover a few items,” Pastor Krireche told Morning Star News. “The officer told me, “I’ll give you half an hour; if you’re not back then, we go into action and close everything.”
After he collected items, the church building was sealed within 15 minutes, he said. The pastor had been notified on Tuesday (Oct. 15) that the church building would be closed, the same day authorities forcibly closed the buildings of Algeria’s two largest churches over the objections of protesters.
EPPETO Church Closed
Authorities had notified the Protestant Church of the Full Gospel of Tizi-Ouzou (EPPETO) that they would seal its building on Wednesday (Oct. 16), but on Tuesday about 20 police officers entered the premises of Algeria’s largest church, where more than 300 Christians had gathered in solidarity with local members.
Some of those praying for God’s intervention were in tears as police arrived who would beat and drag some Christians from the worship hall. The EPPETO church has about 700 members, with another 300 in seven to 11 smaller churches in Tizi-Ouzou Province, according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
Arriving just after Christians there had finished a service of worship and prayer, police at 5 p.m. implemented the closure order issued by the governor of Tizi-Ouzou Province. When they saw that most of the Christians had left, they charged in, leaving a guard to prevent some Christians who tried to return from re-entering, church leaders said.
Pastor Salah Chalah, head of the organization representing Protestant churches in Algeria, l’Église Protestante d’Algérie or EPA, was inside the building along with Pastor Tarek Berki and a few other Christians who refused to leave, Pastor Chalah said. Police forced them out, dragging some women by the hair, and when Pastor Chalah and other Christian men tried to intervene, officers kicked them and struck them with batons, the pastor said. He sustained minor injuries.
After sealing eight doors, police then departed to the mock applause of the remaining Christians, he said.
Half an hour later, Pastor Chalah spoke to those recording him with their smartphones, saying their religious freedom rights had been flouted. He and other church members believe the closure orders for the EPPETO, Tafat and Makouda churches were issued in retaliation for a sit-in at a provincial government office on Oct. 9.
“The police intervened to force us out of our church—a church that exists and has been active legally and in the light since 1996,” Pastor Chalah said. “It’s been 23 years that we exist in plain view; why wait until today to do so? May everyone know that we have been beaten and abused, including our sisters too, in our own premises for one reason only—our Christian faith. And because that’s the cause of our pain, we’re proud of it.”