Angola Shuts Eight Churches After Deadly Clashes With Sect

Angolan authorities shut eight church groups and declared them illegal two weeks after police clashes with a religious sect that may have left hundreds of people dead.

To be allowed to operate, churches must collect 100,000 notarized signatures with copies of identification cards from people across at least a third of the southwest African country’s 18 provinces, the state-run Jornal de Angola reported Thursday. The newspaper cited Isidro Justino, head of identification, registration and legal affairs in the justice and human rights department of Huambo province.

Groups in the province that have been closed include the United Pentecostal Church, Hope Evangelical Church in Angola, the Pentecostal Community of Jesus Christ in the World, New Jerusalem Divine Healing and Christian Vision, according to the newspaper. World Vision, which the newspaper reported had been on the list, denied it had been banned.

The government in Africa’s second-largest oil producer said this month that eight police officers were killed April 16 while trying to apprehend the leader of a group called Light of the World near Caala in Huambo, about 390 miles (630 kilometers) southeast of Luanda, the capital. Another officer was killed at Balombo about 335 miles south of Luanda, the government said.

The main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, said on its website Thursday it would “ask the United Nations and others to conduct a rigorous and impartial inquiry” of claims that police retaliated with helicopter gunships to mow down more than a thousand of the sect’s followers and other residents.

Access Denied

Victims’ bodies were burned and authorities have denied Unita access to the area, Adalberto Costa Junior, a lawmaker from the party, said in an April 28 interview after speaking with police officers and survivors.

Authorities said April 23 they killed 13 bodyguards of sect leader Jose Julian Julino Kalupeteka, who was arrested.

Mario Jorge, a media adviser to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, has repeatedly referred queries about the clashes to the national police. National police spokesman Aristophane do Santos hasn’t answered calls or texts seeking comment almost every day since April 23.

The Christian humanitarian group World Vision is still operating and is fully compliant with government regulations so there’s no reason to believe its programs will be declared illegal, Grenville Hopkinson, its national director for Angola, said by e-mail Thursday. The group, which started working in Angola in 1989 during a severe drought, provides food, farming supplies, health-care services and education in the country.

Dos Santos has ruled the mostly Catholic nation of 24 million people since 1979, four years after independence from Portugal. The government’s religious policies created a stir in 2013 when Muslims accused officials of shutting mosques.