Representatives of the United Reformed Church have expressed their anger and concern at the news of the violent disruption of an ecumenical prayer service for peace at a church in Harare by Zimbabwean police earlier this month (April 2011).
Their comments, drawing on the Easter message, are based on a press statement from the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (see below) which describes a vicious attack by Zimbabwe armed riot police on a Harare congregation of approximately 600 people.
The brutal actions of the police caused serious injury to many – and 14 people were arrested and taken to Harare central police station where they were charged with “causing public violence” and held for two days.
Commenting on this report, Simon Loveitt, public issues spokesperson for the United Reformed Church, said: “This brutal attack on people gathered to pray for peace in represents a new level of oppression and violence in the long litany of human rights violations by the Zimbabwe Republic Police. It now appears that even places of worship can no longer be considered as sacred or safe spaces – and this raises serious concerns about the fundamental human rights of freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Zimbabwe."
He continued: “The greatest irony is that people praying for peace were charged with “causing public violence” while the only violence was from those who are charged with the protection of citizens from the very acts they perpetrated; this resonates with the message of Holy Week on which we are currently reflecting."
Frank Kantor, the URC’s secretary for church and society, and a South African national, personally knows many of the victims of this recent violence.
He commented: “Although I have a strong and personal connection to the Christian community in Zimbabwe, I believe that these atrocities are something all Christians should be concerned about. It is our prophetic mandate to speak out against injustice and oppression in whatever form – and I am proud that the United Reformed Church is prepared to publically stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Mr Kantor concluded: “As we come to the climax of Holy Week, and the eyes of the Christian Church turn towards the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we appeal to all Christians to remember the on-going suffering and distress of our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe in their Easter prayers. Their suffering has been long and painful – and yet we are reminded by the Easter message that hate and turmoil is not the final reality for Christians. Faith, hope and love endure – and will overcome in Zimbabwe.”
The United Reformed Church has urged its congregations throughout the UK to continue to pray for a just and peaceful solution to the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe.
Statements on recent police brutality in Zimbabwe:
* Zimbabwe Christian Alliance Press Statement on police violence - http://www.urc.org.uk/what_we_do/church_and_society/docs/zca_press_state...
* Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights condemns police abuses - http://www.urc.org.uk/what_we_do/church_and_society/docs/zhr_condemns_po...