Rwanda shut down 8,000 churches alleged to be in violation of new government laws. Christians condemned the forceful closing of the churches, saying the government used petty red tape violations to justify its actions, reports Pulse Nigeria.
The new laws demanded that establishments adhere to the basic requirements in terms of “safety, hygiene, infrastructure, and legality.” No less than 8,000 churches were closed recently and the Christian community fears that more will be considered illegal churches in the near future.
In one district, authorities banned all meetings of a closed church, and congregants are not even allowed to meet in home groups. —Anonymous source
An anonymous source told World Watch Monitor that all churches in Rwanda were affected by the government’s crackdown, including “churches considered luxurious for local standards have had to close.”
Church services, meetings, and other religious activities are prohibited, too. “In one district authorities banned all meetings of a closed church, and congregants are not even allowed to meet in home groups,” a source said. In another village, local officials interrupted a ceremony and closed the church while a wedding was ongoing. The wedding party and guests had no choice but to leave the premises.
Sources claimed that the new laws are not yet approved officially, but that didn’t stop authorities from imposing stricter regulations on churches. Those districts which were lenient in implementing the new laws before are now more stringent in enforcing it.
Church leaders feared that the new laws are fashioned to discriminate against religious minorities in the east African country. Six pastors were detained for allegedly defying government orders. They have been released, but their incarceration served as a warning against other leaders, reports Ugandan Christian News.
The new laws apply not only to Christian Churches, but World Watch Monitor noted that Muslims seemed to be exempted from the strict regulations.
In the new regulation, there are rules against loud noises. Muslims who use loudspeakers in mosques continue with their practice despite the implementation of the law. Muslim clerics said they would appeal the rule prohibiting loud worship in religious places.
Prof. Anastase Shyaka, Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Governance Board, said there are too many churches in Rwanda that the number of churches outnumber the number of villages in the country.
“The number itself is not a problem, but in some buildings, three or four different denominations would hold prayer services at the same time, resulting in unbearable levels of noise and unsafe environment for occupants,” he explained.
“All prayer houses including Catholic, Adventists, Muslims and born-again Churches had issues. They were all assessed and those found not meeting standards were closed down,” added Prof. Shyaka.
With the new stringent requirements announced early this year, believers had to find ways on how to practice their faith. Some had to go to the nearest church, about 12 miles from their village, to attend church service.