Friday, June 30, 2006

Iraq: Mandaeans face genocide.

Date: Friday 30 June 2006
Subj: Iraq: Mandaeans face genocide.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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IRAQI'S MANDAEANS FACE GENOCIDE
- ALL OTHER RELIGIOUS MINORITIES AT RISK

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Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
  • (a) Killing members of the group;
  • (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." (Link 1)
Islamic elements in Iraq are working towards the total destruction of the Mandaean community. Iraq's Mandaeans are facing genocide.

The Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschaft fur bedrohte Volker) has published a report entitled "Mandaeans in Iraq: After centuries of persecution – Today their very survival is threatened" (March 2006). (Link 2)

This German-based organisation documents the same sorts of abuses that have been documented by the Sabian Mandaean Association of Australia (SMAA) and used in previous WEA RLC postings on Iraq. Abuses include forced conversions, kidnappings, rapes, forced marriages, tortures and killings (often highly barbaric) of innocent Mandaean civilians including women and children.

Since the overthrow of the Hussein regime the situation for Mandaeans in Iraq has become untenable as violence against them has increased markedly. Because Mandaeans, are labeled "unclean" and not even afforded "protected" dhimmi status, they may be publicly persecuted or killed with impunity. In fact the killer may even have a sense of justification, as if he has performed a noble and principled act of cleansing. On top of this, Mandaeans are pacifists and therefore defenseless. They are generally well educated and highly skilled. Altogether this makes them choice, prime, easy targets for greedy criminals as well as for bigoted Islamists.

The Society for Threatened Peoples is also documenting the flight of Mandaean refugees. They estimate that around 1,000 Iraqi Mandaean families had fled to Syria or Jordan by January 2006. In September 2005, the BBC estimated that a mere 13,000 Mandaeans (about one third of the pre-war population) remained inside Iraq.

In May the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its Annual Report for 2006. Pages 9 – 12 are devoted to the human rights situation in Iraq, and make it very clear that "The future of religious minorities hangs in the balance".

Here are some excerpts from that four-page segment entitled: "IRAQ: Human Rights in Jeopardy". (Link 3)

"Minority communities, including Christian Iraqis, are forced to fend for themselves in an atmosphere of impunity, and lack any tribal or militia structure to provide for their security. The result is that members of these communities continue to flee the country in the face of violence, in an exodus that may mean the end of the presence in Iraq of ancient Christian and other religious minority communities that have lived on those same lands for 2,000 years. The UN has reported on 'an explosion of Islamist extremist movements and militias which target, among others, members of religious minorities,' concluding that religious minorities 'have become the regular victims of discrimination, harassment, and at times persecution, with incidents ranging from intimidation and threats to the destruction of property, kidnapping and murder,' and that 'members of the Christian minority. . .appear to be particularly targeted.' As discussed below, this violence is also directed against women, including non-Muslim women, who are deemed as not complying with Islamic strictures, which are being imposed unlawfully.

"Sabean Mandaean organizations continue to report that extremist Islamic elements are targeting individual members of the Iraqi Sabean community, solely on the basis of their religious belief. In a number of instances, attackers reportedly attempted to forcibly convert their victims before murdering them, sometimes going so far as to leave the victims' valuables behind to underscore the religious motivation for their acts. Other violence directed against the Sabean community reportedly included kidnapping, rape, immolation, and the gouging of eyes.

"According to the Germany-based Society for Threatened Peoples, 17,000 of the 30,000 Mandaeans have already fled Iraq in the wake of this violence. According to sources cited by the UN, Iraqi religious leaders issued several fatwas during the past year which 'have provided Islamic fundamentalists with the religious justification for acts carried out against the Mandaeans, and have accentuated the level of fear among the Mandaean community'."

ULTIMATUM: CONVERT, LEAVE OR DIE.

Today, Iraqi Mandaeans are being given an ultimatum – to convert to Islam or leave Iraq. The only other option is death.

Here are translations of two letters received recently by Mandaeans in Iraq. The translations are taken from the Appendix of the report by the Society for Threatened Peoples.
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Threatening letter addressed to Layth Shaker
[excerpt of translated letter]
In the name of God
Warning Warning
To the citizen Layth Shaker, you are going astray and you have to come back to God and his prophet. This is a warning to you and your family, the fighter's brothers will be satisfied if you transfer from Al-Ramady with your family. You have time limit for three days only and after that you will be punished because the settlement is started and this is a last opportunity to you and you are under control by the Al-Jehadia group. . .
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Threatening letter addressed to Mahmoud Shaker
[full text of translated letter]
In the name of Allah
'If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).'
'O, ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination of Satan's handiwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.'
To the magus, the infidel, the Sabi the goldsmith Shaker M & his sons, we warn you and your sons that you must abandon the religion of the infidel and the atheist and to convert to Islam. Your sons must join the Al-Jehad group to fight against the occupiers and the army of the infidel. By the way your sons who ever is Mahmoud Shaker and his brother Moneer Shaker are an agent soldiers in the army of what called the national guard and you drink wine, you are dirty, cursed infidel and low. You have only two choices, either convert to Islam or to leave the country of Islam.
He who was warns is excused
The national Islamic resistance
Kataeeb Thwart Al-Eshreen
Information Office.
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DESPERATE NEED FOR ASYLUM

On 23 June 06, the SMAA reported that in the previous week, ten Mandaeans had been mutilated and killed in Basra, and that all the other Mandaeans still living in Basra had received "warning" notices ordering them to leave Iraq or be likewise killed. The letters reported to the SMAA follow the same line as the "warning" notice to Mahmoud Shaker (above), and falsely accuse the Mandaeans of being drunkards, gamblers, idolaters, prostitutes and practitioners of black magic.

The Mandaeans of Basra have even been informed that they no longer have the option of converting to Islam. They are fleeing for their lives, and those who cannot flee are living in terror of their lives. All the Mandaean clergy have fled.

But where will Iraq's Mandaeans find refuge?

When Iraq's Jewish population was faced with the same choice - leave or die - the newly created state of Israel came to the rescue. Iraqi Jews accounted for one third of Baghdad's population at the time of World War One and most were highly educated, skilled professionals. Persecution of Jews (and Christians) escalated after the British mandate ended in 1932. The Christian Assyrians suffered a catastrophic massacre in 1933. Then in October 1939, the arrival in Iraq of the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem (a personal ally to Hitler) heralded the beginning of the end of a 2,500 year history of Jews in Iraq. After years of inciting anti-Semitic violence all over Palestine and the Middle East, Haj Amin El Husseini incited anti-Jewish pogroms and massacres in Iraq with a view to genocide. There were still up to 150,000 Jews in Iraq in July 1948 when "Zionism" was made a criminal (in some cases capital) offense, with only two Muslims required to denounce one Jew. By 1951 more than 100,000 Iraqi Jews had been evacuated empty-handed, rescued by Israel's Operation Ezra & Nehemiah to be absorbed in Israel as refugees. A remnant of 34 mostly elderly Iraqi Jews were found in Iraq in 2004. (Link 4)

There is no rescue in sight for Iraqi's immediately threatened Mandaeans. Due to the enormous numbers of refugees flooding into Syria and Jordan, Syrian and Jordanian tolerance is beginning to run out. Also, many Mandaean asylum seekers are not finding refuge in the West as political forces, motivated by trade deals as well as political and diplomatic considerations, are increasingly interfering with refugee tribunal decisions.

Below are two resources from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to further assist with asylum claims of Iraqi Mandaeans, Christians and other religious minorities.

Background Information on the Situation of Non-Muslim Religious Minorities in Iraq. (October 2005)
http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.pdf?tbl=RSDLEGAL&id=4371cf5b4

Guidelines Relating to the Eligibility of Iraqi Asylum-Seekers. (October 2005)
http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.pdf?tbl=RSDLEGAL&id=4354e3594

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/p_genoci.htm

2) The Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschaft fur bedrohte Volker) http://www.gfbv.de "Mandaeans in Iraq: After centuries of persecution – Today their very survival is threatened." March 2006. (direct link to English version: http://www.gfbv.de/inhaltsDok.php?id=694 )

3) United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its Annual Report for 2006. http://www.uscirf.gov/

4) Iraq's Jews
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3107219.stm ALSO http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/iraqijews.html

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bhutan: Present trial bridges past to future.

Date: Friday 16 June 2006
Subj: Bhutan: Present trial bridges past to future.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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BHUTAN: PRESENT TRIAL BRIDGES PAST TO FUTURE
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In Bhutan, two imprisoned Christians, Benjamin Dhunigana and John Dai, will soon face court on charges of proselytising. They have been in prison ever since their arrest on 8 January 2006. They had responded to an invitation to show the Jesus video in a non-believer's home. A boy attending the meeting informed the police, and Benjamin and John, who are both married with children, were arrested the next day. Benjamin was recently sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison and John to three years. They were granted ten days to appeal to the court for bail and then they will appeal the charges against them. (For more details, see Link 1)

This trial will take place at a critical juncture as Bhutan transitions from a closed and repressive past to an open and free future. The country's leadership is delicately but boldly preparing Bhutan to embrace modernisation and liberty. The difficulty is that Bhutan's two million population is largely illiterate and very nervous about change. There are only around 3000 Christians in predominantly Buddhist Bhutan and the Church has struggled with severe restrictions and systematic persecution. Now however, there is great hope.

The debate around the proselytism case could define the future of religious liberty in Bhutan. As such, it is a highly significant trial, deserving our fervent prayers and positive support.

If Bhutan can make this transition from religious kingdom to constitutional, parliamentary democracy with full religious freedom, and be blessed by it, it will impact not only Bhutan but the world – because in this globalised age, the world is watching. The same can be said of the changes taking place in Nepal.

It will be in the political and religious interests of religious nationalists, both local and foreign, that these nations fail and even collapse into chaos so they can be rescued or redeemed by political-religious forces. The people of God must pray: for the "Cyruses" of this world (Isaiah 45: men or women God uses to effect his sovereign will and blessing); for God to "frustrate the ways of the wicked" (Psalm 146:9); and for God to bless his Church with his gracious favour (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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Bhutan is undergoing a difficult but marvelous transition: from Buddhist Kingdom to constitutional, parliamentary democracy. His Royal Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk has been devolving his monarchical role from that of supreme ruler to "Head of State" in a parliamentary democracy. He plans to abdicate the throne in 2008 and hand his role to His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

The second draft Constitution (published on 18 August 2005) was the result of years of work that involved the detailed study of constitutions from all around the world. The result is an extraordinary document that enshrines equality, religious liberty, a high standard of human rights, and personal responsibility.

Draft Constitution:
http://www.constitution.bt/draft_constitution_2nd_en.pdf


While Article 3 of the draft Constitution recognises Bhutan's "spiritual heritage" as Buddhist, the king (the Druk Gyalpo) will be the "protector of all religions". Also, Article 3.3 states: "It shall be the responsibility of religious institutions and personalities [i.e. not the State] to promote the spiritual heritage of the country while also ensuring that religion stays separate from politics."

Concerning culture, Article 4.1 states: "The State shall endeavour to preserve, protect and promote the cultural heritage of the country. . ." And in Article 4.2: "The State shall recognize culture as an evolving dynamic force. . ." This clause resists the temptation to lock the people into a static cultural stereotype, and gives the nation and the people freedom to evolve, in the words of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, "with the changing times". (Link 3)

Article 7 deals with "Fundamental Rights".
Here are some highlights:

Article 7.1 A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to life, liberty and security of person and shall not be deprived of such rights except in accordance with the due process of law.

Article 7.2 A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression.

Article 7.3 A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.

Article 7.4 There shall be freedom of the press, radio and television and other forms of dissemination of information, including electronic.

Article 7.5 A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to information.

Article 7.7 A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of movement and residence within Bhutan.

Article 7.12 A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, other than membership of associations that are harmful to the peace and unity of the country, and shall have the right not to be compelled to belong to any association.

Article 7.15 All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal and effective protection of the law and shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, politics or other status.

Article 8 defines the "Fundamental Duties" of Bhutanis. Article 8.3 states: "A Bhutanese citizen shall foster tolerance, mutual respect and spirit of brotherhood amongst all the people of Bhutan transcending religious, linguistic, regional or sectional diversities."

But not everything is to be tolerated! Article 8.5 states: "A person shall not tolerate or participate in acts of injury, torture or killing of another person, terrorism, abuse of women, children or any other person and shall take necessary steps to prevent such acts."

PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS

After the second draft Constitution was published it was distributed nationwide with the instruction that people read it and openly discuss its contents. Then, His Royal Majesty the King and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince traversed the country holding public consultations in every dzongkhag (district). Throughout the consultations they assured the people that Bhutan was not following a trend but consolidating the rapid and profound achievements of the past. They answered questions and discussed issues with gatherings of hundreds and even thousands. The first public consultation took place in the capital, Thimphu, on 26 October 2005, and the final closing public consultation took place in Trongsa on 27 May 2006.

The questions asked and the anxieties expressed by the people in these public consultations were consistent across the nation. There was a general feeling of sadness, loss and trepidation that their beloved king was devolving his powers to a parliament.

Religious freedom
was a key issue for many at the consultations, with concerns being raised that religious freedom would lead to the spread of other religions and this would ultimately undermine and threaten Buddhism and Bhutan's cultural heritage. To these concerns, the Chief Justice, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, His Royal Majesty and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince intelligently, persistently, firmly and graciously endorsed equality of all Bhutanis, religious liberty as a fundamental human right, and the responsibility of all Bhutanis to fulfill their duty to the nation by practising peace and tolerance.

Here are some excerpts from http://www.kuenselonline.com from reports covering the public consultations.

FREEDOM OF RELIGION A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT

From the consultation in the Punakha valley (late November 2005): "One student said that the 'freedom of religion' might encourage the spread of other religions and dilute the Buddhist tradition which was Bhutan's spiritual heritage.

"The Chief Justice explained that the Druk Gyalpo [king] was the protector of all religions and that, in a democracy there should be no discrimination against any religion. Freedom of religion was a fundamental right of the people." (Link 2)

THE TRUE CAUSE OF PROBLEMS IS ABSENCE OF TOLERANCE, NOT PRESENCE OF FREEDOM.

At the public consultations in Dagana (5 February 2006): "The draft was read out to the people in Lhotsham-kha [local language] and discussed article by article as His Royal Highness clarified the queries and doubts raised by about 3,000 public representatives."

"On Article 7, Fundamental Rights, the people voiced their apprehension that, with freedom of religion, Buddhism may be undermined. The Chief Justice said that, although Bhutan was a developing country, the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution were among the most comprehensive in the world.

"He said that, while Bhutan was a Buddhist nation, it was also one with respect for people of all faiths. He added that it would be the absence of such respect and tolerance that would create problems, as it had in some countries around the world, rather than the freedom that Bhutan's Constitution provides.

"His Royal Highness said that the Constitution was a Constitution for all the people of Bhutan and that it would not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, or caste. He said that the best way to safeguard the fundamental rights of the people was to ensure the success of this democratic transition. In other words, to fulfill one's fundamental duties." (Link 3)

A gathering of some 10,000 attended the public consultation in Samtse (around 1 April 2006). "On politics, the people felt that religion and politics should not intersect but with the coming of modernisation the interests of the religious community may be neglected. His Royal Highness said that this separation of roles was very important but that as a spiritual nation and people, the religious community's interests would always be safeguarded," thus reinforcing the notion that the religious state of a nation is the responsibility of the people, not the State.

A gathering of some 5,000 community representatives attended the consultation in the eastern economic hub of Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhag (22 April 2006). Once again anxieties were raised concerning ". . .the need to safeguard Bhutan's spiritual heritage against a possible influx of other religions". The community representatives raised examples of failed democracies, where corruption was rampant. His Royal Highness responded with examples of successful democracies, noting that success is dependant upon three main things: good leadership, an enabling environment, and a population that shoulders its responsibilities. He assured the people that Bhutan had the first two ingredients, and all that was needed now was for people to put aside their petty differences and concerns and keep the greater good of the people foremost in their minds. (Link 4)

At the consultation in remote Zhemgang dzongkhag in early May, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince responded again to suggestions that Bhutan's Buddhist spiritual heritage be explicitly safeguarded in the Constitution. His Royal Highness emphasised that what was considered important in culture and traditions and spiritual heritage would evolve with time according to the changing time, and that different generations of Bhutanese must decide for themselves what aspects of culture and traditions should be given importance. (Link 5)

In the dzongkhag of Bumthang, which Kuenselonline describes as "the spiritual heartland of Bhutan", people expressed their concern that, "if the traditional Bhutanese schools of Buddhism that represented the country's spiritual heritage were not specifically protected, they might be overwhelmed by other religions in future.

"Lam Jamtsho of Ura warned that an influx of new religions would sow the seed of discord in a peaceful country where Buddhism was the essence of life. 'We have seen that one of the main causes of political conflicts is the clash of religious interests,' he said.

"His Royal Highness reminded the people that, in the eyes of His Majesty the King and in the provisions of the Constitution, all Bhutanese were equal." He assured the people that because Buddhism is based on "equality, peaceful co-existence and tolerance" then peace and prosperity should prevail. He then re-affirmed his belief that under a parliamentary democracy, it was important to separate religion from politics.

"When the Chumey representative said there was an apparent contradiction in Buddhism being the spiritual heritage of Bhutan under Article 1 and freedom of religion in Bhutan under Article 7 the Chief Justice explained that one was related to the culture and historical traditions of the nation and the other to personal choice and practice. 'While the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, no person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement,' he said. 'That will ensure religious harmony'." (Link 6)

THE NEED TO DEFINE TERMS

Articles 7.3, "No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement", and 7.12 "A Bhutanese citizen . . . shall have the right not to be compelled to belong to any association", both use words – compelled, coercion, inducement – that require definition. This is why the approaching trial of Benjamin Dhunigana and John Dai is so significant. While the trial will doubtless be conducted according to presently enacted laws that ban proselytism (the new Constitution has not as yet been enacted), this trial could see the terms of the draft Constitution defined. The trial may be used to establish a precedent as Bhutan makes this historic transition into its future.

Elizabeth Kendal


Links

1) Two Christians in Bhutan Sentenced to Prison Without a Trial
VOM, 12 June 2006, http://www.persecution.net/pnp.htm#3

2) The unfolding of a new era. 30 November 2005
http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=6284


3) Crown Prince conducts public consultations on the Constitution in
Dagana. 8 February 2006
http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=6543

4) Looking forward to a new era. 26 April 2006
http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=6870

5) Zhemgang's youth are both excited and concerned. 3 May 2006
http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=6899

6) Bumthaps clarify their doubts on the Constitution. 24 May 2006
http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=6992

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Zimbabwe: Government interference escalates

Date: Tuesday 6 June 2006
Subj: Zimbabwe: Government interference escalates
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Over recent years, the Mugabe regime has introduced several measures to silence dissent. Quite apart from open police brutality, measures like the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill 2004 (NGO Bill, see link 1) and the draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA, which provides the police with wide-ranging powers to control or ban public gatherings of three or more persons) have enabled the Mugabe regime to crush or silence dissent, close doors and obstruct channels of communication and aid. These laws have had a devastating effect upon the Church's ability to deliver humanitarian aid and engage in human rights, justice and freedom issues.

The POSA was recently used to ban a prayer procession organised by a united Christian forum called "Churches in Bulawayo", on the grounds that the police deemed it a security risk. In their statement to the press Churches in Bulawayo expressed serious concern that the police would deny them the right to hold a prayer procession. They regard this as a serious infringement of their freedom to worship.

UPHOLDING THE BIBLICAL MANDATE


On 23 May 2005 a wave of demolitions heralded the commencement of Robert Mugabe's "Operation Murambatsvina". It is estimated that some 300,000 homes were demolished by the "Mugabe Tsunami" – a man-made disaster that left some 1.5 million homeless and destitute. Several people including small children were crushed in the dwellings they called "home". Many other victims died from the consequences of poverty combined with homelessness, such as starving or freezing to death. Still others died prematurely from illnesses simply because the medical missions and NGOs that served the poor were likewise not spared (Link 2).

Operation Murambatsvina left Zimbabwe's churches facing what appeared to be an insurmountable volume of human suffering. However, one great blessing did arise from the ashes of Murambatsvina. Christians long divided by difference found unity in their conviction that they must uphold the Biblical mandate to defend the poor and needy, and that they can do it best if they do it together. Operation Murambatsvina gave life and purpose to a powerful movement of practical church unity. Churches in Bulawayo is one such church alliance. According to its 16 May 2006 press release, "Churches in Bulawayo sheltered over 2000 families at the height of Murambatsvina and have continued to provide food assistance as well as medical help and payment of school fees for displaced children."

Churches in Bulawayo organised a prayer procession for 20 May 2006 to commemorate Operation Murambatsvina and pray for its victims. "Sokwanele" Civil Action Support Group reports, "This event was but one of the several organized across the country by the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, an informal ecumenical alliance seeking a united Christian response to the current crisis. The objective - shared by many civic groups including Crisis in Zimbabwe - was to focus attention on the plight of victims of ZANU PF's purge of the poor, one year on from the nationwide campaign of destruction which saw hundreds of thousands rendered homeless and destitute." (Link 3)

Church leaders in Bulawayo consulted the police about their intention to hold a prayer procession. They did this as a courtesy, not because they were obliged to, as events that have "bona fide religious purposes" are exempt from the POSA. The police initially granted the churches clearance. However, they soon made an about turn and withdrew permission saying the procession would be a security risk. The Churches in Bulawayo press release explains, "What has frightened the police is that thousands of Bulawayo residents are intending to take part in the procession."

After withdrawing permission for the prayer procession, police then moved to intimidate the pastors into submission. The Churches in Bulawayo press release explains: "Since yesterday [Monday 15 May] junior police officers have been calling individual clerics to interrogate and intimidate them to cancel the procession. But this morning, Tuesday, about 30 senior security officers in Bulawayo who are members of the Joint Operations Command – that is composed of police, army and Central Intelligence Organisation – summoned the leadership of Churches in Bulawayo to a two-hour interrogation session."

The Bulawayo pastors however, being consumed with conviction that they must obey the Biblical mandate – "Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:9) – were not easily intimidated. Instead, they challenged the police ban in the Bulawayo High Court. Lawyers for the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance argued that the police ban was an "infringement of our freedom to worship" and it demonstrated "the desperate position of this regime". Late in the evening of Friday 19 May, the High Court ruled in favour of the pastors, saying that the churches had the legal right to hold a prayer procession. (Link 4)

Sokwanele's report is entitled, "More steel in the men of God: Despite police threats the Church goes ahead with Commemoration," and it explains what happened next. "The organizers of most of the other commemorative events planned for this weekend [20-21 May] eventually succumbed to police pressure to call them off. Not so the pastors who lead Churches in Bulawayo." (Link 3)

PRAYER PROCESSION

On Saturday 20 May 06, in defiance of Mugabe's police, Churches in Bulawayo led some 300 very courageous believers in a prayer procession. Everyone who participated did so with the knowledge that, in the words of Rev. Promise Mnceda, ". . .the likelihood of arrests and beatings is very high." (Reuters 19 May)

The prayer procession commenced at St Patrick's Church in Makokoba, Bulawayo's oldest township. From there the band of believers walked into the city singing "Nkosi Sikeleli Africa" (a famous African anthem) and hymns and choruses. Sokwanele reports that the singing attracted "the friendly attention of passers-by". Police and CIO officers lined the route, but the day passed without incident. When the procession reached its destination at the Brethren in Christ Church in the city, those taking part settled down outside to listen to speeches, songs and a poem written especially for the event. Messages of solidarity were read from supporters such as Zimbabwean Archbishop Pius Ncube (unable to attend) and British-based TEAR Fund. (Link 5)

Sokwanele concludes: "For many of the unfortunate victims of Operation Murambatsvina and hundreds of internally displaced persons the Church has become their only refuge and security in a turbulent time of deep crisis. They are grateful, and we as a nation should be profoundly grateful that the Church is there for them. That the Church is taking up its divine mandate, not only to care for the victims of the most gross human rights abuses but also to challenge and confront the arrogant tyranny responsible, is a cause for general rejoicing."

Rejoice – yes! But don't forget, these church leaders are facing perilous times. By the time the next church event rolls around the Bulawayo High Court will doubtless have a new judge (see Institute for War and Peace Reporting: "Mugabe Moulds Pliant Judiciary", link 6).

PERSECUTION BY PROXY


But the suffering of Zimbabwe has not produced a turning point for the churches so much as it has produced a watershed, and not all church leaders are falling down the same side of the mountain. Churches in Zimbabwe are splitting and polarising over the issue of how to respond to the Mugabe regime. Groups like the Churches of Bulawayo and the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance advocate solidarity for the purpose of upholding the Biblical mandate of Proverbs 31:9. Others however believe that preaching salvation without engagement in political issues must be the sole focus of the church.

Others still are discovering that allegiance to Mugabe can be very profitable, both in terms of promotion and material reward. Church leaders driven by greed, power-lust and pride rather than a heart for God's kingdom and glory – and such leaders are found in every nation – enjoy symbiotic relationships with the Mugabe regime. This enables Mugabe to interfere directly in church affairs and persecute "troublesome" clerics via proxies: bishops who have exchanged the Biblical mandate for a dictator's rewards.

Most notable is the case of the Anglican Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, who not only accepted the gift of St Marnock's Farm in Nyabiri (someone else's land) as a token of personal gratitude from Robert Mugabe, but he also used Zanu PF militia to evict the 40 families of farm workers living in the farm village. Further more it has been alleged that Kunonga used his influence with the ruling party to secure the post of bishop of Harare.

In August 2005 Kunonga appeared before the Provincial Court of the Anglican Church of Central Africa (an ecclesiastical court) to face 38 charges, including incitement to murder, intimidating critics, preaching racial hatred, and mishandling church funds. In December 2005 the court hearing collapsed without explanation and all charges were dropped. Many suspect Zanu PF interference.

Twelve priests have left the parish since Kunonga became bishop, ten of whom live in exile, claiming to have fled persecution. According to the Reverend Paul Gwese who fled Zimbabwe last September, ". . Reverend Nolbert Kunonga, . . .has terrorised Christians, and . . is turning his diocese into a religious branch of Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party." The exiled clerics recently observed a day of prayer and then unanimously agreed to approach Ugandan-born John Sentamu, Britain's first black archbishop, for help. (Link 7)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Zimbabwe: The NGO Bill and the Church. 20 January 2005

2) Zimbabwe: urban renewal or social engineering?
-- Operation Murambasvina, 4 July 2005

3) More steel in the men of God: Despite police threats the Church goes ahead with Commemoration. Saturday, 20 May 2006
http://www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/archives/415

4) Churches in court fight for 'prayer marches'
By Jane Fields, Harare, 19 May 2006
http://news.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=743752006
AND
Bulawayo high court upholds churches' legal right to march
By Tererai Karimakwend,. 20 May 2006 http://www.swradioafrica.com/news190506/churchmarch200506.htm

5) Bulawayo churches defy Zimbabwe protest ban. 22 May 2006
http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/news_syndication/article_060522zimb.shtml
AND
'We Remember': A Poem written In Honor of the Victims of Murambatsvina. By Dumisani O. Nkomo http://www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/?cat=37

6) Mugabe Moulds Pliant Judiciary.
By Hativagone Mushonga in Harare, 31 May 2006
http://www.iwpr.net/?p=acr&s=f&o=321302&apc_state=henh

7) Shameful silence on Nolbert Kunonga, Anglican Bishop of Harare
5 January 2006 http://www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/archives/334
AND
Zimbabwean clerics to seek help from Archbishop of York. 27 May 2006 http://www.zimbabwejournalists.com/story.php?art_id=465&cat=2