The small contingent of Christians in Algeria are facing a twofold threat: the government closing their churches due to the novel coronavirus and a new provision in the Constitution, possibly reducing religious freedom.
“While we’re facing great uncertainty with new restrictions in the U.S., churches in Algeria are already shuttered and silenced,” said Rex Rogers, president of SAT-7, a nonprofit Christian broadcaster beaming Gospel programs into the North African country. The firm recently started airing a program in the Kabiyle dialect, which has believers among its 6 million speakers.
The U.S. State Department estimates that no more than one in 200 Algerians is Christian. Over 99% of the population is Muslim, the vast majority Sunni.
The country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs hires and trains Muslim imams even though Algeria technically is not a religious state. And the government only engages in activities consistent with Islamic values.
While Muslims may convert to other faiths, Algerian law forbids trying to lead them away from Islam. Anyone who “incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction intending to convert a Muslim to another religion; or by using to this end establishments of teaching, education, health, social, culture, training … or any financial means” faces a maximum of $8,500 in fines and five years’ imprisonment, according to the relevant statute.