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Reopened Cameroon Churches Fear Criticizing Government

FILE - Women from a Catholic society wave rosary beads as they watch the convoy of Pope Benedict XVI pass on the way to a meeting between the pope and Cameroonian bishops, in Yaounde, March 18, 2009.

Hundreds of churches that were closed down for allegedly criticizing Cameroon's President Paul Biya in recent years have reopened their doors and are operating unperturbed. But most of them now fear to criticizing Biya, 82, who has been in power for more than 30 years.

Four hundred Christians sang praises to their savior Jesus Christ at the World Wide Mission church in Yaounde.

The church is one of scores that were sealed by the government of Cameroon before the October 2011 presidential election, allegedly for criticizing President Biya.

Churches and state

The church's pastor, Etoundi Hubert, says two months after the election the government asked him to reopen his church — but made him wait for authorization to operate legally.

He now sounds philosophical about the ordeal.

He said it is written in the Holy Bible book of Romans, Chapter 13, that all servants of God have to work in partnership with administrative and political authorities and pray for them so that there should be peace. He said that is their own contribution in nation building.

There is no law in Cameroon that explicitly bans churches from criticizing the president, or becoming involved in politics.

However, the government accused the churches that were closed down of operating illegally, and carrying out activities that had nothing to do with the word of God.

A new wave of closings came ahead of the 2013 parliamentary elections. Opposition parties, along with some pastors, said only opposition candidates should be elected as senators. That would be key because the head of the Senate would replace the president in case of a power vacuum, according to the constitution.

FILE - Pope Francis poses with Cameroon President Paul Biya and his wife Chantal Biya during a private audience at the Vatican, Oct. 18, 2013.
FILE - Pope Francis poses with Cameroon President Paul Biya and his wife Chantal Biya during a private audience at the Vatican, Oct. 18, 2013.

Some churches remain closed

Fifteen churches remain closed. Reverend Atana Dieudonne of the Seed of Life church says the government has kept his church door closed because he is still critical of President Biya's long stay in power.

He says it is his biblical right to draw society's attention to what is going wrong.

Dieudonne says he preaches the word of God as spelled out in the Bible and as a follower of Christ and pastor in His church. He can not disrespect the teachings of God. He says he will practice and obey without fear what God is asking him to do through the Bible.

Charlemagne Nditemen, the pastor at one of Cameroon's oldest churches, the Cameroon Baptist Convention, says some pastors have been highly critical of the government for its tactics.

"It was a well calculated period and you know a politician will do everything possible using the art of the profession, politics," he said.

But, Nditemen adds, there are laws about what churches can do, and it is proper for any church created in violation of that law to be closed down.

Asked about the accusations they are targeting churches critical of the government, officials contacted for this story refused to respond.

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