The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have condemned police intimidation against members of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe during the past week. Christians, including clergy and local bishops, were barred by police from entering their churches on Christmas Day. They were also threatened with arrest and violence.
Both Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu criticised the intimidation, saying that the church was the only lifeline for people “ground down by unceasing unemployment and lack of basic services”.
“We condemn unequivocally any move to deny people their basic right to worship. To prevent people from worshipping in their churches on Christmas Day - unable to receive the church’s message of hope - is a further blow to civil liberties in Zimbabwe,” they said.
The Anglican leaders continued: “Such unprovoked intimidation of worshippers by the police is completely unacceptable and indicative of the continued and persistent oppression by state instruments of those perceived to be in opposition.”
Earlier in the year, the Diocese of Harare brought charges against the police chief of Zimbabwe for sending police to prevent Anglicans from entering their churches for Sunday services.
Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri was accused by the diocese of working with the excommunicated Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, to destabilise the Anglican Diocese of Harare.
Kunonga, a supporter of President Robert Mugabe’s regime, set up his own province following his expulsion from the Anglican Church in 2007. He has refused to heed a high court ruling to share churches with Anglican congregations and has since been locked in wrangling with the new Bishop of Harare, Chad Gandiya, over ownership of the Church’s property within the diocese.
Kunonga and his supporters have frequently turned to violence and intimidatory tactics to keep people away from the Anglican Church in Harare. The interim Bishop of Harare, Sebastian Bakare, was forced to confront riot police in March when they burst into a Sunday service.
In a statement in 2008, Anglican bishops declared: "We do not recognise Mr Kunonga as a Bishop within the Anglican Communion and we call for the full restoration of Anglican Property within Zimbabwe to the Church of the Province of Central Harare."