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Zimbabwe Anglican church says worshippers beaten

The Harare diocese of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe says it is "shocked and dismayed by the continuous police interference with Sunday services", and the increased brutality that is causing casualties.

"Many of our parishioners were assaulted and beaten, several of our parishioners of St Monica’s Church in Chitungwiza were brutally assaulted and had to be admitted to hospital [on 18 May]," said Bishop Sebastian Bakare on 22 May. Bakare is Bishop of Harare and his diocese is part of the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

In a statement, Bakare noted, "In addition, on Sunday 18 May all churches were locked up and church services were held outside church premises in the open or in private property."

The diocese of Harare consists of 70 parishes and districts, and church members complain that for the last three weeks police have been deployed to prevent church members from entering their church premises for worship.

"The police officers do not only prevent but beat, harass and arrest us, having declared our church premises no go areas," the statement said, "Our struggle to worship without harassment continues."

The Anglican cathedral in the Zimbabwean capital is at the centre of a fight between the Harare diocese and former Anglican bishop Nolbert Kunonga and his self-styled Anglican Province of Zimbabwe. Kunonga, the former bishop of Harare, was stripped of his licence as a priest in 2007 after he withdrew his diocese from the Anglican province of central Africa over what he said was its failure to condemn the ordination of homosexual bishops.

Kunonga is a strong supporter of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party, and was the beneficiary of a 600 hectare farm that had a white owner until Mugabe’s supporters seized it under what the Zimbabwean president has called a land redistribution exercise.

Bakare’s statement noted that the police had disregarded an order issued by the Zimbabwe Supreme Court’s Chief Justice on 12 May, as they had also done with previous court orders. "In Zimbabwe the rule of law has been greatly compromised," said Bakare. "That leaves us with no recourse to ensure that our members can freely and peacefully exercise their constitutional rights of worship without harassment."

The bishop said his church members were being deterred by the "lawlessness", and would continue to seek justice through the courts.

"We once again appeal to the law enforcement agents, and especially the police, to let sanity prevail, and refrain from harassing and brutalising Anglican Christians in the Harare diocese. Even if this appeal falls on deaf ears, let it be said for the record," Bakare stated.

Earlier this week, the Rev. Allan Boesak, a prominent South African anti-apartheid activist and former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, appealed to churches in Zimbabwe to speak with one voice against tyranny.

"One of the deepest sources of pain for Zimbabweans must be the trauma of seeing a liberation movement become an undemocratic, oppressive, unjust regime," Boesak wrote in an open letter to Zimbabwean church leaders. "I know tyranny when I see it, and it is in Zimbabwe as surely as it was in South Africa."