Police arrest over 18 for public prayers during pandemic

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Police officials in Mbarara district, in the western region of Uganda, arrested over 18 Christians on Sunday including 2 pastors for allegedly defying Ministry of Health guidelines and Presidential directives against holding religious gatherings in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The Pastors, who include Masengo Rugabirwa and Ntungane Patrick of Source of Healing Church were found conducting a public church service in Katete, Kakoba division, Mbarara city, SoftPower News reports.

Rwizi Regional Police Spokesperson Mr Samson Kasasira reportedly said police was notified by “vigilant neighbors.”

“The suspects will be charged with disobedience of lawful orders and being negligent likely to spread infection of disease,” Kasasira was quoted as saying.

All the suspects are currently being held at Mbarara central Police station.

This is not the first time believers have been arrested for flouting presidential directive on religious gatherings.

Key background:
In March when the President suspended religious, cultural and political gatherings on grounds that it would help prevent the spread of the pandemic which has infected over 17 million people and caused the death of over 680,000 to date, several priests and pastors from different parts of Uganda were arrested by a joint security team for allegedly defying the directive.

In Jinja town, Pastor Zakaria Sserwanda of Evangel Church was arrested in March by police for preaching to a big crowd. According to one of the congregants only identified as Esther, there were less than 10 members who were just recording the service for others to watch from home.

Elsewhere, Pastor Rashid Mutebi of Blessed Feelings Church International located in Gobe, Kajjansi was arrested the same month together with of 30 followers while conducting church services.

On interrogation, the pastor alleged that the Christians came from far and he was still looking for money to transport them to their homes, according to the Kampala Metropolitan Area police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango.

In spite of the fact that several faith groups have opted toward virtual services via livestream instead of meeting in-person, pressure is mounting on government to re-open places of worship.

The churches claim they are unfairly targeted, because market vendors, public transport operators and others were allowed to resume work with Standard Operating procedures in place.

Some church leaders also contend that religious institutions should not be subject to more restrictions than those imposed on essential businesses.

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