Thursday, August 11, 2011

TANZANIA – Pressure mounts on Zanzibar's Christian minority

Two churches serving the tiny Christian minority on Zanzibar island were burnt down in a week, amid mounting opposition to Christians on the archipelago.

In fact, Islamist extremists reportedly burned down two churches on Zanzibar island, which is part of Tanzania, within a four-day period. The Evangelical Assemblies of God Tanzania Church in Fuoni was destroyed on July 30 and the Free Evangelical Pentecostal Church in Africa, in the village of Kianga, was destroyed on July 27.

The congregations of both churches are said to be fearful and unsure now about where to meet. Tanzania's Zanzibar archipelago is 99.9 per cent Muslim and only 60 Christian congregations are said to meet on the islands.

The persecution is not confined to Zanzibar. In June, a Seventh Day Adventist Church was destroyed in Konde on Pemba, the second largest island in the cluster.

Pemba pastors interviewed by Compass Direct news agency report that for several years now the authorities have obstructed their attempts to build churches, even on land they own. One reported that he had been threatened by local Muslims.

Compass Direct also reports that influential Muslims are building what appears to be a hotel on a 100-year-old burial site owned by the Anglican church on Zanzibar. Officials have failed to respond to a complaint issued by the church about construction work on land it owns about two miles from Zanzibar's city airport.

A similar land seizure is reported in Wete city on Pemba island, where the Anglican church bought a burial site in Finya village in 2007, only to learn last November that a Muslim was claiming ownership of the site. The church says its appeals for help to the authorities, including the Tanzanian President, have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Two more Christians are reported to have died in custody in Eritrea. Religious rights charity Open Doors reports that the two women, 23-year-old Hiwet Tesfu and Zemame Mehari, 27, both died at the Alla military camp where they had been detained since being arrested at a prayer meeting in Dekemhare in April 2009. Both women had been in poor health but had been denied medical treatment, Open Doors reports. Both had also suffered torture. They were reportedly buried within the camp. Prayer Alert reported on July 28 that Eritrean officials had arrested at least 90 Christians since May and that 12 Christians were known to have died in custody since 2002. That figure now stands at 14, according to Release sources.

(Sources: Compass Direct, Mission Network News, Open Doors USA, Operation World)

• Pray for the Christian minority on Zanzibar who are experiencing mounting opposition from local hardline Muslims. Pray that the rights of Christians – including freedom of worship – will be respected and upheld by officials and local people alike.
• Please pray for the families of Hiwet Tesfu and Zemame Mehari. Ask God to comfort them and pray that they will stand firm in their faith.

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