Rwanda has ordered 700 churches in Kigali Province to suspend activities from today (1 March) because of concerns over health and safety.
Under a newly proposed law the churches are expected to meet “basic requirements in terms of safety, hygiene, infrastructure and legality”, Justus Kangwagye, a government official, said.
The churches, and one mosque, have been asked to suspend their activities until adjustments have been made, he told Rwandan newspaper The New Times on Monday (26 February). “Worshiping should be done in an organised way and meet minimum standards. Exercising your freedom of worship should not encroach on other people’s rights,” he said.
Professor Anastase Shyaka, Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), which monitors public and private organisations, told reporters on 19 February: “Some churches conduct their worship services in shoddy and unclean structures – to the detriment of people’s health and safety. Cases of noise pollution have also been reported, while some operate without the required operation permits.”
Church representatives said the authorities were being too strict. “Those that failed to implement a few requirements should be reopened and allowed to work while fixing the problems raised,” said Bishop Innocent Nzeyimana, president of the Churches’ Forum in Nyarugenge district, as reported by AFP.
According to the BBC, many of the closed churches are small Pentecostal congregations, and a number were reported yesterday (28 February) to have already been told they had inspectors’ approval to re-open.
Over 90% of Rwanda’s population are Christian, according to US State Department figures, while less than 5% are Muslim.