A church in northern Algeria has been shut down by the government earlier this month as part of the crackdown on non-Muslim places of worship.
According to World Watch Monitor, the village church in Azagher, which has been running for over six years, was ordered to cease all activities on March 2. The church leaders have reportedly received notification two weeks earlier that the church must shut down within 15 days.
The notification pointed out that the church building was "originally intended for the poultry business" and did not meet the standards required by law to host a public meeting. It also cited the buildings' lack of a second exit or fire extinguisher.
Additionally, the notice contended that the church had contradicted a 2008 law "concerning the conditions of entry of foreigners into Algerian territory and their residence, as well as their movements" because it was led by a pastor from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The church in Azagher was the fourth one closed by the authorities in the past four months. The three other churches were affiliated with Algeria's main Protestant-church body, the Protestant Church of Algeria (known by its French acronym EPA), and located in or around the town of Oran, 600 km west of Akbou.
Although the EPA is officially recognized by the government, 25 affiliated churches still received notifications to comply with safety standards in the past few months.
Some Christian advocacy groups have expressed concern that the closures were part of a "coordinated campaign of intensified action against churches by the governing authorities."
However, the Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs, Mohamed Aissa, denied earlier this month that the government is discriminating against the country's Christian minority and said that the churches "did not meet the standards required of a place of worship."
"The institutions that were closed have been closed down because they were built without complying with the regulations of the Republic," Aissa said, adding that a building must be closed if it lacks emergency exits, "even if it is a mosque."
"When a place of worship is built without any notice showing it's a place of worship, which may enable the state to protect it, this place must be closed," he added.
A spokesperson for the EPA noted that the government is simply implementing the 2006 law of regulating non-Muslim worship, which he says is the "legal instrument" that the government uses to "silence the Church"
Under the 2006 law, permission must be obtained before a building can be used for non-Muslim worship, and such worship can take place only in buildings which have been specifically designated for that purpose.
According to Christian charity Open Doors, there are approximately 68,500 Christians among Algeria's estimated population of 40 million. Many of those believers were expatriates, while others are said to be converts from a Muslim background.