11 Christians arrested in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe Republic Police, a force controlled by dictator President Robert Mugabe, has arrested 11 Christians, including four pastors, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Frontline Fellowship, a Christian mission organization in southern Africa, said in a statement.

The pastors had organized an interdenominational prayer meeting aimed at praying for peace during the time preceding next month's presidential election. Feb. 16, the date of the prayer event, was the second anniversary of the onset of the state-orchestrated farm invasions in Zimbabwe, a movement that has caused economic chaos, famine and death in the nation.

According to Frontline Fellowship, the pastors had earlier requested permission for a "Peace Prayer Procession" following the meeting, but the police refused to allow any public prayer vigil or march. The participating churches planned to go ahead with the prayer meetings at the Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican and Catholic churches without staging the march.

Many hundreds turned up at Christ the King Church for the first service, says Frontline Fellowship. At the end of the service, Father Noel Scott of the local Anglican church read a letter out loud from the officer commanding the police for Matabeleland, stating his belief that a procession would lead to trouble and refusing to give permission for the march.

Since the group was forbidden from walking in a procession, they decided to stage a funeral procession, with Scott leading in his truck and the rest of the congregation following at a very slow pace with their lights on. The vehicular procession, according to witnesses, proceeded to the Presbyterian Church.

One witness, quoted by Frontline Fellowship, reported, "It was a wonderful time with fellowship, beautiful hymns and choruses and prayers for peace in our beloved country - Zimbabwe.

"There were police posted at each church, but they did not disturb any of the congregation until we had reached the Church of the Ascension. During the very last hymn, a policeman carrying a walkie-talkie walked down the aisle and approached Father Noel, who was in the pulpit, and whispered something to him."

Continued the witness, "Father Noel was arrested as he came out of the church. He is not a well man, having had a five-way bypass heart operation 14 months ago. … Apparently, Noel Scott is being charged under the new security bill. The 10 ministers and lay preachers from the various churches who went with him have also been arrested, as they refused to leave and knelt down and prayed in the charge office in Bulawayo. No one in detention is being allowed any medication. A vigil is being kept outside the charge office, and a prayer chain has been started in Bulawayo."

Reportedly, the Christians were charged under new security laws with "disobeying the command of a police officer." The offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.