One Year Later: Church in Zanzibar Still Fighting for the Right to Worship
09/05/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The only mistake that Pastor Amos Kanula and the congregation of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG), Zanzibar, made was legally buying a plot of land from a willing seller. They were planning on using this land to build a church. That was back in 2004, and they still aren’t finished. They had built a church, but it was destroyed a few years later. Since then, they have been in and out of courtrooms to fight for retention of the land and the right to resume construction of the unfinished building. The court on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar ordered construction to be stopped on August 26, 2017.
“Today is exactly a year after the court issued a ruling to stop construction on our unfinished church building here in Chikwani, Zanzibar. The reason is that some Muslim businessmen claim that the land on which our church stands doesn’t belong to us and we should not develop the land further or even complete the remaining construction work,” lamented Pastor Amos Kanula.
The court order came after the church had already been destroyed once by local Muslims. The mob also claimed that the party that sold the land to the church was not the rightful owner.
“This group of Muslims wants to erect a mosque on our church property that we purchased in 2004 and [has] become a thorn in our flesh,” Pastor Amos said. “When we first constructed a temporary structure for worship, they came at night and pulled it down. We built another one and worshiped in it for three years after which they also destroyed and, in addition, took us to court. That was in 2007.”
When International Christian Concern (ICC) visited the church in 2015, the congregation was embroiled in a court battle for six years after the group of Muslims filed a legal complaint imploring the congregation to stop church construction until the land possession issue was resolved. According to Pastor Amos, this has not changed.
“Our freedom of worship has been violated by Muslims who have an upper hand in the judicial system of Zanzibar...We have been drained of our motivation and resources and we can only ask brethren all over the world to pray for us.”
“Until now, we are still involved in a case about who owns the plot. We have legal ownership papers of the disputed piece of land, but the case has dragged on for 11 years now. The journey has been costly. We have been paying our lawyer from the mainland Tanzania $100 dollars every month to represent us,” Pastor Amos continued.
Efforts by the Pentecostal Assemblies of God to plead with the court to allow them to complete their church building have been met with threats from the Muslim leaders in Zanzibar.
“When the court stopped us from finishing up our church building last year, we appealed the decision, but we have not been given time to present our submissions. Instead, we have been receiving threats from the Muslims around here. We are on the verge of giving up hope of realizing any justice and just [letting] them do what they want with the land,” Pastor Amos told ICC.
This is not the only case of persecution in Zanzibar as the crackdown on Christianity continues. On May 6, 2018, police closed the Pentecostal Evangelistic Fellowship of Africa (PEFA) in Kisauni area after Muslims complained that it was noisy. At the time of writing, it remains closed.
Pastor Amos is calling upon all Christians to pray for his congregation and other churches on the Muslim-dominated island of Zanzibar.
“Our freedom of worship has been violated by Muslims who have an upper hand in the judicial system of Zanzibar. We do not feel the same energy we had a decade ago when our church was destroyed the first time. We have been drained of our motivation and resources and we can only ask brethren all over the world to pray for us,” Pastor Amos pleaded.
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