Zimbabwe: Priests And Parishioners Arrested As Police Disrupt Church Services

Harare, Zimbabwe - At least three priests and an unknown number of parishioners were arrested on Sunday after the police disrupted several church services held by priests aligned to Bishop Sebastian Bakare, the newly appointed Anglican head of the Harare Diocese.

This follows the recent refusal by ousted Bishop Norbert Kunonga, to accept the church's decision to remove him. The Diocese had split into two camps over the issue and separate services were being conducted.

Kunonga, nicknamed Mugabe's Bishop, appears to have no support from parishioners. Last week about twenty parishes in Harare decided to hold their own services, acknowledging Bakare as the officially appointed leader. In elections held at parishes in Avondale, Borrowdale and Glen View, Bakare received 498 votes and Kunonga just 4.

According to witnesses on Sunday the police said priests were conducting services without permission from Bishop Kunonga, who announced Saturday that he had formed his own Church of the Province of Zimbabwe. He allegedly said only priests licensed by this new province would be allowed to conduct church services.

At the main St Mary's Cathedral in Harare, it is reported that chaos broke out during a service held by Bakare, after Kunonga and some supporters burst in. Two services had been taking place, with Kunonga in the main cathedral and Bakare in a smaller hall. The disruption brought parishioners head to head and police intervened, allegedly arresting only those aligned to Bakare.

Among those arrested was the Secretary General of the Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, Mrs. Gertrude Hambira. She was arrested while taking photographs of the incident and was taken to Harare Central Police station. According to a statement by the Crisis Coalition, lawyers were being denied access and it was not clear if any charges have been brought against her.

Reporter Angus Shaw said that he saw riot police outside St Mary's Cathedral and other churches in Chitungwiza. He said Kunonga's refusal to leave is being described as "UDI," a reference to the unilateral declaration of independence from Britain, announced by the Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith in 1965.