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US Senators call for action on increased religious persecution in Algeria

  • Religious minority groups increasingly targeted under Algerian blasphemy laws
  • US Senators urge Secretary of State Blinken to address increased persecution

WASHINGTON D.C. (14 July 2021) – Five United States Senators, two Republican and three Democrats, signed a letter this week, addressed to United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressing concern and urging action regarding increased persecution of religious minorities in Algeria. Protestants and Ahmadiyya Muslims have recently been targeted under the country’s blasphemy laws for engaging in alleged religiously offensive actions. The government has also failed to reopen numerous Protestant churches that have been systematically closed since 2018.

“Nobody should be discriminated against because of their faith. The open displays of hostility towards religious minorities that we are witnessing in Algeria are deliberate attempts to stifle the spread of Christianity, and represent an attack on religious freedom for all people. Everyone has the right to freely choose their faith and to practice it in public or private, without fear of persecution. We urge the United States to put pressure on the Algerian government to protect this fundamental freedom guaranteed to all people,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International.

Religious discrimination persists throughout Algeria

The targeted campaign of church closures in Algeria has forced thirteen churches to shut their doors and threatens fifty other houses of worship to do the same. Among the churches that have been closed is the Full Gospel Church of Tizi-Ouzou, the largest protestant church in Algeria with over 1,200 members. It has remained closed since 2019.

Algerian courts have also targeted members of the Ahmadiyya community for crimes related to the expression of their faith. In December of 2020, dozens of Ahmadis were tried and convicted for allegedly offending the Prophet Mohammad, distributing leaflets, and engaging in worship without registration, despite the fact that Ahmadis are refused official religious status.

In a recent press releaseAnurima Bhargava, Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that “New convictions and harsh sentences against Ahmadi Muslims in Algeria demonstrate systematic and ongoing persecution on religious grounds” and that “the U.S. government should urge the Algerian government to act swiftly to reverse this disturbing trend.”

Violation of international and domestic law

Algeria is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This international human rights treaty guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The Algerian Constitution also guarantees the freedoms of conscience, opinion and worship. These recent actions against religious minorities are in violation of both international and domestic law.

Foreign governments and the international community continue to expose this discrimination committed by the Algerian government. Earlier this year, USCIRF advised in its 2020 Annual Report that Algeria be recommended for the State Department’s “Special Watch List” for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.

The letter signed by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) sends a similar message: that the international community is watching. The letter calls for Secretary Blinken to raise religious freedom concerns with senior Algerian officials.

In the letter, the Senators write: “In December 2020, Congress overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution calling for the repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws throughout the world, once again demonstrating bipartisan commitment to international religious freedom. In that spirit, we reiterate our deep concern with the treatment of religious minority groups in Algeria and recognize that the freedom to practice one’s faith freely is one of our nation’s most sacred values and a universal human right.”

Similar efforts are being simultaneously organized around the globe, including in both the U.K. Parliament and European Parliament. The coordinated, global effort seeks to send a clear message, that discrimination against religious minorities will not be tolerated by the international community.

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