Over the weekend Zimbabwean police arrested nine church leaders, including a blind pastor, for allegedly holding a meeting in Kadoma without first seeking approval from the police - report human rights activists in Zimbabwe. They also confiscated nonviolence manuals
The meeting had gathered in a church for the launch of the Kadoma chapter of Christian Alliance - a coalition of churches, opposition political groups, human rights organisations and civil society networks.
The alliance is pushing for wide-ranging political changes in Zimbabwe, which is on the brink of economic collapse, and where the poorest are being pushed further to the margins by President Robert Mugabe's policies, say critics.
Kadoma lies over 150 kilometres west of Harare, and has seen several political disturbances in recent months.
A Christian Alliance spokesperson, Lucky Moyo, told Zim Online on 27 January 2007 that armed riot police arrested the church and civic leaders before a shocked gathering of more than 400 people.
Among those detained were Jonah Gokova of the Ecumenical Support Services, Raymond Motsi of the Baptist Church in Bulawayo, blind evangelical pastor Ancelimo Magaya, and a journalist - Pius Wakatama.
It is a criminal offence under Zimbabwe's tough Public Order and Security Act to gather in groups of more than three persons without first seeking approval from the police. Even discussions in restaurants and bars have been broken up when there has been suspicion of political dissent on the part of the authorities.
President Mugabe says that the Act is designed to terminate what he has called "foreign-funded subversion of a democratic government". Opponents say it is a debial of basic rights of assembly and freedom of speech. Church figures, including Bulawayo Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube, have been increasingly outspoken on these issues, and the treatment of homeless and impoverished sectors of society.
Mr Moyo said the police also confiscated copies of videos on non-violent resistance and peace-building which featured the likes of United States-based civil rights leader Martin Luther King. These were being shown at the seminar.
Zimbabwe's police have in the past raided offices of the Christian Alliance, which President Robert Mugabe's government accuses of working with the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party to oust it from power.
The arrested persons are due to appear in the magistrates court this week. The wife of Pastor Magaya, Dephin told Zim Online that she was worried about her husband's condition in the unhealthy prison cells in Kadoma.
Mr Moyo added: "The arrest of pastors has far-reaching implications because what it means is that people may no longer be guaranteed their religious rights and freedom to worship. It is unfortunate the police decided to arrest our members when the subject for discussion was non-violence in the face of mounting social, economic and political problems."