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The Rwanda Governance Board continues to close churches it says fail to meet requirements laid down at the beginning of the year. Many see the closures as part of an effort by the government to make its aggressive secular stance clear. Rwanda’s pro-government KT Press, says more than 8,000 churches have now been closed. In one village the church was closed while a wedding was going on. The couple and the guests were simply told to leave the church during the service, and the church was closed. Another church was stopped from having services in a school hall because it had timber instead of metal doors and window frames.”

“In one district authorities banned all meetings of a closed church, with congregants not even allowed to meet in home groups.” One congregation now meets in a church building in another neighbourhood with members now having to walk 20km to attend church. Many new requirements not originally included in the directive have now been added. These include toilets being a certain distance from the church entrance. One church was told it needed to change its roof and rebuild one of the brick walls. This will be hard for them to do as they have already been forced to take loans and depend on the goodwill of businessmen to meet their needs.

Church access roads as well as church compounds need to be paved. The inside walls and ceilings in the church must be plastered and painted. Exposed brick is not allowed anymore. All churches must have lightning-conductors. All pastors now need to have a theological degree from an accredited institute. Another new law states that only institutions that also teach science and technology can teach theology, meaning that few of the many often highly regarded theological institutions or Bible schools are regarded as valid. This law is being enforced even though it has not yet been approved officially.

They no longer allow prayer meetings in government institutions, which used to be very common. Words referring to the Christian faith have been removed from the preamble of the Constitution. During the commemoration of the genocide, neither pastors nor priests who used to play a prominent role in past commemoration events, can speak or preach any more, unless the event is organised by a church.

Two Sundays per month, main roads are closed, meaning that many people cannot reach their church. Church attendance has declined.

Many Rwanda Patriotic Front, the ruling political party, meetings and other activities that may be compulsory are arranged for Sundays.

On paper, the same rules apply to Muslims as to Christians, but in practice this is not the case. Muslim clerics indicated that they would appeal the decision outlawing the calling of worshippers to prayer over loudspeakers. For now, the practice continues. There is a high level of fear among church leaders. Shortly after the new requirements began to be implemented, officials arrested six pastors accused of plotting to defy the government orders. Although the pastors have since been released, a senior church leader explained that the arrest served as a stern warning to others to not resist the move.

Source: World Watch Monitor