08/28/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern recently sent an open letter to President Tebboune of Algeria asking him to uphold religious freedom in his country and reopen a number of churches recently closed throughout the country. The letter was cosigned by 21 other organizations from Washington, D.C. and around the world, all calling for Tebboune’s new government to push back against the decades of discrimination which Algerian religious minorities have faced.
“The international community,” the letter reads, “stands with the religious minority communities in your country and is committed to championing their right to freedom of religion and belief. …We believe this is an opportunity for your administration to prove that you are committed to reform and that the injustices of the past will not be perpetrated under your watch.”
After decades of harassment under the authoritarian regime of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Christian church in Algeria had reason for optimism when Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a self-styled reformer took power in December of 2019. The transitional military government that ruled in the eight-month period between Bouteflika and Tebboune’s administrations had not been any kinder to the church than Bouteflika had been—its brief rule saw nine Algerian churches forcibly closed, including the two biggest churches in the country.
The international community watched with some interest, then, as Tebboune settled into the presidency. The widespread civil unrest and calls for reform that had led to Bouteflika’s resignation continued as protestors gathered week after week to demand that the new administration make good on its promises. It was hoped that Tebboune would reopen the closed churches and make practical steps to ensure that religious minorities could practice their faith freely.
Tebboune steadfastly promised “radical changes,” pointing to a constitutional reform committee as evidence of his devotion to the cause. The committee’s suggestions were repeatedly delayed, however, and not a single closed church has reopened since his administration came to power. The closure orders have, as of this publishing, all been allowed to stay in effect and suggest that perhaps Tebboune is not as committed to reform as he might want the public to think.
In July, Tebboune’s administration gathered information on the religious affiliations of teachers in Tizi Ouzou Province. The resulting data was then sent to the national Department of Intelligence and Security, in a move widely seen as intended to intimidate Tizi Ouzou’s Christian and atheist teachers.
Just a few months earlier, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, one of the leading international voices on the topic of religious freedom, included Algeria in its Special Watch List of countries with especially severe religious freedom issues. This was the first time in the Commission’s history that Algeria made the list, reflecting how concerning the issues in Algeria really are.
ICC hand-delivered its recent letter to the Algerian embassy in Washington, D.C. and is awaiting a response from the Algerian government. Mr. Tebboune has a golden opportunity to show the international community that he really is committed to reform—the world is watching and urges him to allow his citizens the right to exercise their faith freely. He should reopen the closed churches immediately and allow them to worship together again.