Religious Bias Fuels Christian Persecution in Zanzibar’s Judicial System
07/10/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The judicial system is contributing to the unequal treatment of Christians in Zanzibar. The island of Zanzibar is a popular tourist destination, famous for its exotic spices, rich cultural, political, and social history, and beautiful historic sites. However, the rich history of Tanzania’s semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago has concealed Christian persecution for decades. The domination of the Islamic elite and primarily Muslim population has led to religious discrimination against Christians by treating them as second-class citizens.
According to Simon*, a pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in Zanzibar, the conflict between Muslims and Christians goes unnoticed and is rarely covered by local media.
He told International Christian Concern (ICC), “It is crystal clear that the rise of Christianity in Zanzibar has attracted hostility and discrimination, issues that the international community knows too little or nothing about. It’s true Zanzibar is known for tourism and spices, but the truth of the matter is that the Christian body has been persecuted for so long.”
An Islamist group called ‘Uamsho’ (Swahili for “awakening”) has been calling for the secession of Zanzibar from Tanzania and thereafter the introduction of Islamic laws. This sociopolitical move has led to the deprivation of Christians’ right to worship, right to own property, and freedom of expression.
In 2017, a court in Zanzibar ruled that Pastor Amos Kanula should not continue with the construction of his church and ordered him to vacate the plot of land that he legally acquired in 2004.
Pastor Amos decried, “Our legal pursuit to retain the ownership of the church compound has been halted by the Islam-influenced judicial ruling. We fear that the unfinished church building will be demolished anytime and a mosque will be constructed.”
“It is crystal clear that the rise of Christianity in Zanzibar has attracted hostility and discrimination, issues that the international community knows too little or nothing about.”
On May 6, 2018, police stormed in during the Sunday service and arrested the pastor for holding a Sunday service. Pastor Daniel Kwilemba and the church members of Pentecostal Evangelistic Fellowship of Africa (PEFA) began to panic as they witnessed an undercover policeman approach the pulpit, grab the microphone, and drag the pastor away into a police car.
Pastor Daniel Kwilemba recalled, “The strange man entered through the back door and without introducing himself first to our deacons, he walked straight to the front, interrupted the sermon, and arrested me. I was forced to cut short the sermon. I knew he had been sent to harass our church. Outside were several armed police officers and several cars which they used to take me and some elders to the police station.”
During the arrest, the officer in charge assaulted the pastor’s daughter who was demanding to know the reason for her father’s arrest. She was also taken to the police station where they were held for four hours.
The pastor’s daughter, Winfreda, said, “I was acting within my rights and I did not rub the officer the wrong way. He knew they lacked constitutional support to arrest my father and, because he could not answer, he resorted to slapping me [and subsequently arresting me as well].”
This kind of pressure remains the reality under which many Christians in Zanzibar live. The 99% Muslim population has complete control of all positions of power and are using them to try to end Christianity in the country. Despite this, the Church continues to grow. We pray alongside those in Zanzibar, that true freedom of religion and worship would be allowed for all citizens.
*Name withheld for security.
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