Report: Zimbabwe bishops threatened, abused

AP News
Posted: Oct 11, 2011 11:21 AM
Report: Zimbabwe bishops threatened, abused

Anglican bishops are receiving death threats and one worshipper who refused to follow an excommunicated leader was killed, according to a document viewed by The Associated Press on Tuesday that the worldwide head of the Anglican church gave to the country's longtime ruler.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, handed over a report to President Robert Mugabe this week detailing incidents of intimidation. The church here has been divided since 2007, when a pro-Mugabe bishop was excommunicated for inciting violence in his sermons.

Followers of Nolbert Kunonga maintain he is still the church's legitimate leader, and they have taken over the main cathedral, hospitals, the church's bank accounts and some 55 schools with the help of police loyal to Mugabe.

"In Harare, the police have disrupted church services and have been using tear gas and baton sticks to drive people out of church buildings," the document read.

"As a consequence most churches lie empty each Sunday, except where a handful of Dr Kunonga's priests and their families are able to occupy them."

Priests and deacons are arrested without charge on a weekly basis, often on a Friday, allowing the police to hold them over the weekend without charge, so that they cannot minister to their congregations, the report said. Anglican bishops in Zimbabwe have received death threats over the phone, in person and at gun point, it added.

And in February, a parishioner who had refused to join Kunonga's church was found murdered, the report said.

"We have information which very strongly suggests that she was murdered because she belongs to the Diocese of Harare CPCA. She had received threats to that effect in preceding weeks and days as she consistently refused to join Dr. Kunonga's Church."

Williams told reporters after meeting with Mugabe Monday that the president told him he was unfamiliar with the scale of intimidation the mainstream Anglicans in Zimbabwe are reporting. Kunonga, who has denied the allegations against him, did not answer a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ruled in August that Kunonga could retain control of Anglican properties until an appeal by the mainstream Anglican church is resolved. That ruling was made by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, who, like Kunonga, is an open supporter of Mugabe's party.

Williams said Monday his visit to the southern African nation was a show of solidarity with Zimbabwean Anglicans who "have suffered serious persecution at the hands of the police."

The report that Williams presented to Mugabe was compiled by regional Anglican bishops and describes a "litany of abuses."

"Parishioners are not only denied access to their churches, but increasingly are threatened with punishment if they worship at all or attempt to carry out their ministry to the community," it said.

The report alleged that police are complicit in the abuse and intimidation, with arbitrary arrests, teargassing and assault of worshippers.

In August, Kunonga took over Shearly Cripps orphanage which is home to at least 80 children and named after its founder, an Anglo-American missionary who died in 1952.

"It is feared that (education) standards may fall to rock bottom if Dr Kunonga is not stopped immediately," the report said.

Parishioners are also being denied health care services at the church's hospitals manned by Kunonga's loyalists who are under strict instructions not to accept "much needed" drugs and equipment donated by humanitarian organizations. This has compromised service delivery especially in malaria-prone areas, it said.

"Lives that could have been saved have been lost as a result of these diminished standards," the report said.

Williams began his southern African tour in Malawi last week. He left Zimbabwe Tuesday for Zambia, where he told new President Michael Sata he supported his call for multinational corporations doing business in Africa to contribute through their taxes to development. Sata has indicated he will seek more tax revenues from foreign companies.

"With regard to taxation and multinational presences here we would want to support that and regard that as a matter of natural justice and practice and wish you well for the future," the archbishop said during a meeting with Sata at Zambia's presidency.


Lewis Mwanangombe in Lusaka, Zambia contributed to this report.