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21 Clergymen Arrested in Zimbabwe - 2003-02-28

In Zimbabwe, 21 clergymen were arrested Friday, when they tried to deliver a letter to the commissioner of police protesting the harassment and arrest of fellow clergymen and the disruption of religious gatherings by the police. The churchmen were arrested Friday morning. Some were charged and released by late afternoon. The clergymen from several churches were arrested as they marched to police headquarters in Harare, where they intended to hand over their letter of protest to the commissioner of police. According to their lawyer, they were about a block away from police headquarters, when they were confronted by riot police.

A police officer asked them if they were aware that marching is illegal under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act. The priests told him that they had spoken to a senior police officer who was waiting to receive their petition. The police officer on the scene ordered them arrested immediately.

At the police station, the priests were interrogated and charged with acting in a manner intended to provoke a breach of the peace.

Earlier in the day, police in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, visited the Roman Catholic archbishop, Pius Ncube, and warned him that his church services should be of a religious nature and not be critical of the government. This was an apparent reference to a service he held on Thursday, during which seven alleged victims of state-sponsored torture testified before the Bishop's congregation.

According to the French news agency, AFP, Bishop Ncube told the police that the church could not excuse itself from getting involved in issues of violence, hunger and economic hardship.

Bishop Ncube is one of the most vocal critics of the government, and has clashed with the authorities on numerous occasions. President Mugabe has warned him to steer clear of politics.