By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
HARARE, ZIMBABWE (BosNewsLife) -- Zimbabweans planned to hold a prayer vigil Monday, January 29, outside a court-room where eight detained Christian officials were due to appear after Zimbabwe's largest crackdown on Christian leaders in six years.
Christian relief and development agency Tearfund confirmed Monday, January 29, that six Zimbabwean church leaders and two other decision makers of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA) were detained in Kadoma, about 140 kilometers (87.5 miles) south-west of the capital Harare, "by armed police who intervened in a church meeting attended by over 500 people."
The leaders, detained Friday, January 26, were identified as Pastors Ray Motsi of the
Baptist Church of Bulawayo, the visually impaired Ancelom Magaya of the Zimbabwe National Pastors Conference, Gerald Mubaira, Zvizai Chiponda, Watson Mugabe and Lawrence Berejina. The two other ZCA officials were Jonah Gokova, Director of Ecumenical Support Service and Pius Wakatama, a ZCA journalist, Tearfund said. cameraman was reportedly briefly detained but later released.
ZCA said the incident happened during a "dedication service for a regional" affiliate of the organization in Kadoma. "The aim of establishing these networks is to create local chapters of the ZCA", a platform helping hristian leaders with church based advocacy, peace building and aid programs.
Authorities reportedly allege that the ZCA leaders incited the crowd to violence, charges the group has strongly denied saying the Alliance "exists to bring about peaceful social transformation" in Zimbabwe.
Another pastor, identified only as Pastor Mubayira, who came to visit the detainees was also arrested, eyewitnesses claimed. His whereabouts were not immediately clear Monday, January 29.
It was the largest known arrest of Christian leaders since 2001, when police cracked down on a peaceful prayer march after the elections and the subsequent confiscation of land from white farmers, ZCA said.
"As Christian leaders no amount of intimidation will silence us as this would be tantamount to a denial of our faith and calling," added Pastor Lucky Moyo, a spokesperson for ZCA.
"We condemn this latest act of violation of fundamental human rights and disregard of freedom of religion. We demand that the government opens up democratic space and starts de-politicization and demilitarization of the public institutions to enable a peaceful social transformation in Zimbabwe," Moyo said.
Before their court appearance Monday, January 29, the church leaders spent in the rundown 'Rimuka' prison facility of Kadoma. In a statement sent to BosNewsLife, one of the detained Christian leaders, journalist Pius Wakatama, spoke of "overcrowded conditions" in the prison cells.
He said nearly 30 people were sleeping in a small cell while another inmate claimed there was only one blanket between all the prisoners and not enough room to lie down on the concrete floor."
In published comments, Pastor Ray Motsi shouted through the wire fence to Christian supporters from the exercise yard that the "the arrest of Christian, peaceful pastors is indicative of the situation we face in Zimbabwe."
He said he was praying "the church would unite together around the situation." The pastor and his colleagues reportedly spent the night in what they called "praise and worship." Pius Wakatama joked that he needed to go "to a new cell because all the people" he had preached to "had already become Christians." Over 60 Christians reportedly came to see the pastors to give them food while one man reportedly walked in front of the police waving a banner that read: "Raise the flag of Zimbabwe in prayer. Justice, Truth, Freedom and Peace."
Tearfundâ€™s International Director Peter Grant told BosNewsLife in a statement that he was not surprised about these latest development. "More and more often we are seeing the activities of churches and relief agencies disrupted by government intimidation in Zimbabwe."
He said the detained church leaders were "dedicated to alleviating desperate poverty...This action is unacceptable when so much combined effort of the ZCA is committed to helping the poor."
The ruling ZANU-PF party allegedly used fraud and intimidation to win a two-thirds majority in the March 2005 parliamentary elections, allowing it to amend the constitution and recreate the Senate, which had been abolished in the late 1980s. In April 2005, Harare embarked on Operation Restore Order, ostensibly an urban rationalization program, which Western observers say resulted in the destruction of the homes or businesses of 700,000 mostly poor supporters of the opposition.
ZANU-PF announced in December 2006 that they would combine presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010 allegedly to ensure President Robert Mugabe remains in office. (With reports from Zimbabwe).
Copyright 2007 BosNewsLife. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without our prior written consent.