Algeria: Persecution Spurs Debate

Prayer June 18, 2008

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 483 |


In February 2006 Algerian President Bouteflika signed the
controversial 'Presidential Order Concerning Religion' which
severely restricts Christian worship and practice. The Order was
then passed by the upper and lower houses of parliament without
debate. However for two years it sat on the books without being
implemented. Then in early 2008 the government finally caved in to
pressure from intolerant Islamic groups and, as reported in RLP 466
(20 Feb 2008), a crackdown began.

On 29 March 2008, police in Tiaret city, 240km (150 miles) south-
west of Algiers, found Bibles in the handbag of an Algerian
Christian woman named Habiba Kouider (35). She was subsequently
charged with 'practising non-Muslim religious rites without a
licence'. The case has attracted considerable local and
international attention and condemnation. Writing on 27 May -- the
day the verdict was due to be delivered -- Algerian dissident
journalist Arezki Ait Larbi called on the government to stop the
'witchcraft trials' against Christians. He mocked the government's
ridiculous 'conspiracy theories' and argued the case for
'fundamental liberties over fascist tendencies'. Regarding Habiba
Kouider's trial he said: 'Whatever the verdict, Habiba is already a
symbol of courage and liberty.' The ruling has been postponed.

On 1 June police in Tiaret harangued Habiba in the street for two
hours, subjecting her to a humiliating public body search and
interrogation. Then on 3 June, the Tiaret court handed down rulings
regarding four Christians on trial for the crime of seeking to
convert Muslims to Christianity: Rachid Muhammad Essaghir received
a six-month suspended sentence and a 200,000-dinar (US$3,300) fine,
whilst Chabane Beikel, Abdelhak Rebeih and Djillali Saibi were each
given two-month suspended sentences and 100,000-dinar (US$1,650)
fines. Another case against Rachid Muhammad Essaghir (37) started
on 18 June in Tissemsilt, 175km (110 miles) south-west of Algiers.
He and an associate, Djallal, had been charged with 'distributing
documents to shake the faith of Muslims' after Bibles were found in
their car in June 2007.

On 7 June, Algeria's Minister of Religious Affairs, Mr Ghlamalah
Bouabdellah, attempted to justify the repression by accusing
Christian groups of collaborating with foreign elements;
destabilising the country by sowing divergences between people; and
seeking the political objective of opposing the ruling regime. He
equated them with criminals and terrorists and promised to fight
them 'the same way we fight terrorism'. Just days earlier, the head
of the government-appointed Higher Islamic Council, Abu Amrane
Chikh, had made the same accusations. According to Chikh, 'This is
a new form of colonisation that is hidden behind freedom of
worship.'

But multitudes of Algerians are sick of Algeria's intolerant
Islamists and its non-transparent government constantly covering up
human rights abuses and cutting deals with militants. Algeria has a
presidential election scheduled for April 2009, so this is a
strategic time for debates about Islam, religious liberty and the
future of Algeria. Please pray.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* give Habiba Kouider, Rachid Muhammad Essaghir, Chabane Beikel,
Abdelhak Rebeih, Djillali Saibi and Djallal -- as well as all
other Algerian believers at risk of persecution -- the grace,
faith, strength and courage required to run with endurance the
race that is set before them. May they always be looking to
Jesus, the 'founder and protector' of their faith. (Hebrews
12:1,2 ESV)

* raise up more and more courageous voices for liberty within
Algeria, to stimulate Algerians to have not only a hunger but a
hope for a more open, honest, progressive and equitable future.

* continue to bless the Algerian Church with growth in numbers as
well as in grace, love, knowledge and wisdom; may God continue
to bless and provide for all the various Arabic language
ministries that are so wonderfully impacting this hungry nation.

~~~~

SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PERSECUTION SPURS DEBATE IN ALGERIA

The Algerian government has been appeasing Islamists since early
2008 by implementing its 2006 'Presidential Order Concerning
Religion' and repressing Christian worship and practice. Habiba
Kouider (35) was charged with 'practising non-Muslim religious
rites without a licence' after police found Bibles in her handbag
on 29 March. Her case is so controversial that on 27 May the court
postponed its verdict. On 1 June police harangued Habiba in the
street for two hours. Then on 3 June, four Algerian Christians got
suspended jail sentences and fines for 'attempting to shake the
faith of Muslims'. The government asserts that religious liberty is
part of a foreign conspiracy to colonise Algeria. But many
Algerians are not buying that and voices for liberty and justice
are being raised in Algeria. Please pray for Algeria and its Church
in this time of trial and debate.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.