Around 700 churches have been shut down in Rwanda in a mass clampdown for failing to comply with government regulations. Most of the churches are small Pentecostal outfits and one mosque has also been closed.
‘Some churches conduct their worship services in shoddy and unclean structures, to the detriment of people’s health and safety,’ said Anastase Shyaka, head of the Rwanda Governance Board, which monitors public and private organisations. ‘Cases of noise pollution have also been reported while some operate without the required operation permits,’ he added.
Pentecostal churches, often run by charismatic preachers who claim to hear directly from God or say they are able to perform miracles, have spread rapidly in many parts of Africa and many operate out of tiny structures without planning permission.
In order to start a church in Rwanda a pastor needs a government certificate that expires after one year. But a new law plans to make it more difficult to start a new church by requiring leaders to have theological training before opening a church.
The reason, according to AFP, is the government says that some preachers ‘deceive their congregation with misleading sermons’. But in turn some preachers accuse authorities of trying to control the message they send to their congregations, in a country often accused by rights groups of stifling free speech.