Police in Uganda's West Nile region said this week that they were holding three South Sudanese in connection with last week's brutal killing of a Ugandan preacher at the Pagirinya refugee settlement in Adjumani district.
Superintendent Josephine Angucia, a spokeswoman for the West Nile regional police, said Pastor Bunia Margaret of the Victory Church, which operates in Uganda's Adjumani and Moyo districts, was killed in broad daylight by a mob at the Pagirinya II trading center after a group of Christian evangelical leaders had accused her of being a witch.
"This deceased pastor, Margaret, went to preach the word of God at the refugee camps of Adjumani district. She got a big congregation. According to witnesses, this did not go well with other pastors at the refugee camps. Out of jealousness, they mobilized and came up with a memorandum labeling Bunia Margaret to be a witch," Angucia told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
South Sudanese refugee leaders at the settlement said Margaret arrived in May and established her church in Pagirinya II's Block E.
John Wani, who lives in Pagirinya Block E, said Margaret attracted mostly women and children. He said the pastor claimed she had the power to heal any disease. This, he said, encouraged some to abandon their homes and camp at the church, often for several days. As a result, Wani said, some women abandoned their responsibilities at home.
Wani also said strange things also happened to members of Margaret's Victory Church.
"Many children also left the school because of that. Some girls could go there to pray all night, and they never respected their parents. That pastor, she also told a young boy who was suffering from hepatitis that he should not take the medicine. Pastor said God would cure him," Wani told South Sudan in Focus.
Margaret's followers, including South Sudanese refugee Grace Kuku, strongly denied the allegations, saying she'd healed many people with diseases in the camp. They also argued that freedom of worship is a fundamental right under Ugandan law, and said that if parents were not happy with the pastor's teachings and activities, they should have prevented their children from attending her church.
"I have not witnessed these things. What I know is that there was a girl brought from Agojo who was having this mental illness. Pastor started to fast and pray for her, something like five days. Like that, the girl was OK," Kuku said.
But religious and community leaders in the camp continued to call for Margaret's expulsion. Officials said they were still reviewing the demand when a youth mob stoned Margaret, who died August 7. Angucia said the three South Sudanese suspects were pastors and that police believe the suspects encouraged the youths to kill Margaret.
"Inquiries still continue, and police deployments are yet continuing there as I speak. The situation has remained calm as we monitor and look for the other suspects who are still at large," Angucia told VOA.
Angucia warned refugees there would be serious repercussions for people who acted as judge and jury.
"So, as police, we highly condemn this act of mob justice, where individuals take [the] law into their hands and act on people based on rumors, which are not properly investigated. So, whoever participated in this should know that at the rightful time, he or she will be arrested and prosecuted before the law, because this is not accepted by the law of Uganda," said Angucia.
The police superintendent said the three suspects appeared in court last Friday and were charged with murder. If found guilty, they could face the death penalty.