Six pastors have been arrested and accused of “masterminding” a ploy to disobey the Rwandan government’s order to shut down over 700 churches in one province.
The pastors were alleged to have held “illegal meetings with bad intentions”, the BBC reported.
The churches in the central province of Kigali were ordered to halt operations until they meet building regulations, safety and hygiene standards, and pollution laws, according to South Africa-based News24.
Rwanda National Police spokesperson Theos Badage told journalists on Monday, 5 March, that the six “ring leaders” were aiming to mobilise other clergy against the authorities. It is not clear when the arrested clergymen will appear in court.
Other church representatives have criticised the government’s order. Bishop Innocent Nzeyimana, president of the Churches Forum in Kigali’s Nyarugenge district, said: “Those that failed to implement a few requirements should be reopened and allowed to work while fixing the problems raised.”
Rwandan president Paul Kagame said last week that he was surprised at how many churches there were in Kigali.
“Seven hundred churches in Kigali? Are these boreholes that give people water? I don’t think we have as many boreholes. Do we even have as many factories? But 700 churches, which you even had to close? This has been a mess!” he was quoted as saying by Kenya-based Nairobi News.
Churches in other provinces are also expected to be affected by the crackdown in the coming months, according to News24.
Rwanda is deeply Christian – 44 per cent Catholic and 38 per cent Protestant – but the government strictly regulates all public events, including church services. In 2014, several Pentecostal church leaders were arrested for forming an unauthorised branch of the Church.
The country is now preparing a new law on faith-based organisations, which will require preachers to undertake theological courses. The law is expected to allow the authorities to control preachers more closely.