By BosNewsLife News Center
HARARE, ZIMBABWE (BosNewsLife) -- The fate of at least 15 Christian leaders in Zimbabwe remained uncertain Friday, August 24, after they were detained for attending a prayer meeting near the capital Harare without permission from police, opposition sources confirmed.
They were part of a group that attended a prayer gathering at the Nyamutamba Hotel in Chitungwiza town, south of Harare, on Saturday, August 18, representatives of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.
The detentions came after several pastors were initially briefly held and fined Saturday, August 18, before being arrested again late Monday, August 20, MDC sources added. MDC members of parliament Job Sikhala and Goodwich Chimbaira reportedly also attended the prayer meeting, but were apparently not arrested.
Lawyer James Tabora told reporters that those detained Saturday were temporary released after paying 40,000 Zimbabwe Dollars ($164) in fines.
Among those detained are Bishop Samuel Pasula, and Pastors Mabhena, Patrick Thole, Gordon Chinogurei and a preacher who was only identified as Pastor White, BosNewsLife learned.
Police officials were not immediately available for comment. MDC said "the suggestion that pastors have to ask permission for a prayer meeting shows that the government has become so paranoid that even an opposition member of parliament attending a prayer gathering provides her delirium."
The situation also underscored growing pressure on churches in Zimbabwe to participate in the political process of the troubled African nation, said Christian rights group Open Doors. "There are several reports about church leaders and church members facing difficulties," the group said in a statement to BosNewsLife.
The latest round of arrests came on the heels of a report by a grouping of Zimbabwean human rights organizations, who declared 2007 the country's worst year for rights violations since 2000, when that year's general election resulted in a surge of political-related violence.
The report by the Human Rights NGO Forum, entitled â€œAt Best a Falsehood, At Worst A Lie," takes to task two reports issued by the Zimbabwe Republic Police accusing the political opposition and civil society groups of perpetrating violence.
Forum Chairman Noel Kututwa told the Voice Of America (VOA) network in Zimbabwe that a copy of the report went to the Commissioner of Police Augustine Chihuri and Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi, but he neither attended or sent a representative to the launch of the report.
ZRP spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena declined to comment on the report. Besides Christian leaders, dissidents are also persecuted, opposition groups say. This week some 15 plainclothes policemen in five vehicles raided the Harare home of Womenâ€™s Coalition Chairwoman Betty Makoni taking her and two American women filmmakers making a documentary on her activism into custody.
Sources close to the situation reportedly said police seized the film equipment and detained the three women all day Tuesday, August 21, before releasing them at the end of the day with instructions to return the following morning.
Rights watchers and Western observers say a crackdown on civilians also show desperation of President Robert Mugabe, the pro-independence campaigner who wrested control from a small white community and became the country's first black leader.
Commentators say he now leads a nation whose economy is in tatters, where poverty and unemployment are endemic and political strife and repression commonplace. (With BosNewsife Senior Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar and BosNewsLife Research and reporting from Zimbabwe).
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