Authorities in Rwanda have shut down hundreds of churches in different parts of Kigali over the last one week for failure to meet minimum standards.
Out of 1,351 churches operating in the central business district, Kigali, 714, including those that host believers in tents, have been ordered to close and asked to revamp their premises before they can continue their operations.
Mr Justus Kangwagye, the Head of Political Parties and Civil Society Department at the Rwanda Governance Board on Monday told The New Times, a national english language newspaper in Rwanda, that places of worship are required to meet basic requirements in terms of safety, hygiene, infrastructure and legality which those affected were found to be lacking.
He added, “Worshiping should be done in an organised way and meet minimum standards. Exercising your freedom of worship should not encroach on other people’s rights. They have been asked to halt operations until they meet the requirements.”
“Some may not be able to resume operations any time soon,” he is quoted as saying. “For instance, if the infrastructure is deemed likely to cause danger to those worshiping, it is obvious that it fails to meet the requirements.”
The news paper reports that others churches were found to have inadequacies such as lack of parking lots which would lead to their members parking by the roadsides and causing traffic jam.
The authorities also issued a warning to churches that make noise and disturb peace in residential neighbourhoods.
Gospel Time – Rwanda reported on Wednesday that the ground breaking policy follows remarks by Prof. Anastase Shyaka, the Chief Executive of Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) who said during a recent press conference that, “Some churches conduct their worship services in shoddy and unclean structures that may harm people’s health and safety. Some are causing noise pollution and some are giving misleading sermons. This should not continue.”
According to The New Times, setting up a church in Rwanda requires a temporary certificate which expires after 12 months.
Further more, one is required to make an application for formalising their operations within nine months of opening before the expiry of the temporary certificate.
“Most failed to honor this and failed to apply for permanent [operation] documents. They cannot be allowed to operate outside the law,” the RGB official told the source.
Like what was deemed controversial in Uganda, Rwanda Governance Board has so far drafted a new law to govern Faith Based Organisation (FBO) operation.
The new law is expected to be effective as soon as possible not beyond March, according to Gospel Time – Rwanda.
Reactions to State move on Churches
Residents are said to have expressed mixed reactions with some saying “the move is warranted to protect the general public while others said churches ought to have been given more time to comply with the directives or seek appropriate locations.”
According to media reports, Bishop Innocent Nzeyimana, the president of the Churches’ Forum in Nyarugenge District, pleaded on behalf of the churches that those lacking slight requirements should be reopened and allowed to operate as they fix issues raised.