Zimbabwean police have arrested eight Christian leaders in Kadoma, Zimbabwe. Those seized have not been charged with any offence.
The men, all members of Christian Aid's partner organisation, the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA), were arrested at a church service attended by more than 500 people.
The service marked the launch of a local branch of the ZCA, a national network of Christian leaders working to promote democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe.
'This kind of intimidation is completely unacceptable,' said Christian Aid's Africa policy manager, Babatunde Olugboji.
'Churches, human rights groups and development agencies in Zimbabwe should to be able to conduct their legitimate activities without the threat of government harassment.'
Those held include six pastors, a journalist and Jonah Gokova, ZCA member and director of another Christian Aid partner in Zimbabwe, Ecumenical Support Services.
Friends of the jailed men, who were arrested on Friday, say that they were interrogated until 2am on Sunday.
The ZCA has released the following statement about the incident:
This Friday (26 January 2007) the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance launched a chapter of the organisation in Kadoma as part of a nationwide drive to establish Christian leaders' networks in the country's ten provinces. More than 500 church leaders and Christian lay people were in attendance. The aim of establishing these networks is to create local chapters of the alliance as platforms to equip Christian leaders on church based advocacy and peace building.
In the course of the meeting, at midday, armed police officers disrupted the launch arresting eight members of the Christian Alliance and a video camera man, who however was later released. The eight leaders from the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance are still in custody awaiting trial on Monday. The state is alleging that the Alliance incited the crowd to violence. This allegation is totally baseless as the Christian Alliance exists to bring about peaceful social transformation in Zimbabwe.
'As Christian leaders no amount of intimidation will silence us as this would be tantamount to a denial of our faith and calling,' said Pastor Lucky Moyo, a spokesperson for ZCA.
'We condemn this latest act of wanton violation of fundamental human rights and disregard of freedom of religion. We demand that the government opens up democratic space and starts de-politicisation and demilitarisation of the public institutions to enable a peaceful social transformation in Zimbabwe.'
The use of armed police to disrupt a religious meeting is a clear abuse of power and authority by the police. The continued harassment of the Christian Alliance leadership by Government authorities is cause for concern to the Christian community at large as this infringes on freedom of worship, expression and association. The Christian Alliance leaders who were detained are Pastors; Ray Motsi, Ancelom Magaya (visually impaired), Gerald Mubaira, Zvizai Chiponda, Watson Mugabe, Lawrence Berejina, Mr Jonah Gokova (Director of Ecumenical Support Service) and Mr Pius Wakatama (journalist for the ZCA journal).
The unlawful detention of the church leaders comes at a time when the socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated to alarming levels. The majority of Zimbabweans are living far below the poverty datum line and thousands of children have failed to resume school because of lack of school fees.
For more details contact the Christian Alliance Media department on +263 11 749 587