Assault on liberty: Why Immigration Zambia was wrong to raid churches

E. Munshya, LLB (Hons), M.Div

 The Zambian state has a legitimate interest in enforcing the law. The state is well within its powers to try and apply immigration laws. Those who are in our country illegally should be made to account for their abuse of the law. I do support the Zambian state in its desire to bring some sanity to our borders and ensure that those who visit Zambia do so in compliance with our statutes. However, in enforcing the law, it is important that the state acts fairly, proportionally and reasonably. Those who exercise power have a duty, both fiduciary and constitutional, to be sensible. A democratic state, like ours, that chooses to enforce laws must do so within constitutional boundaries. The state has an obligation to pay attention to the rule of law each time it conducts an operation of such magnitude as the one conducted by police and immigration this past weekend. Statutory powers should not be taken as a license for mischievousness on the part of those who wear state uniforms and carry machine guns.

Police and immigration officers went to two churches in Lusaka and conducted what they claimed was an operation aimed at arresting “illegal immigrants”. The two churches raided were having regular worship services on a Sunday. The first church is located in Chibolya and the other one is located in Kabwata. According to the Immigration Department spokesperson, they conducted this operation in churches because “churches are harbouring ‘illegal immigrants’”. Notwithstanding, their official duty as law enforcement agents, I find their action of raiding churches to not only be ridiculous but actually absolute nonsense. There is no justifiable reason why the immigration department should raid worship services in Lusaka on the pretext of arresting illegal immigrants. It does not make any sense. The action by police and immigration was excessive and lacked any constitutional justification.

This action by police is a violation of the freedom of worship. The fact that armed paramilitaries decided to enter sacred spaces of a people worshipping God is a serious assault on the liberties of our people. It is drivel to claim that the state can send soldiers to the churches just because those congregations have some illegal immigrants worshipping. There are other ways through which police and immigration could arrest illegal aliens. They could arrest them on the streets, in the markets and in many other places. Police could just go to Soweto Market and find numerous illegal Chinese aliens selling tomatoes, chickens and “chibwabwa”. However, police breaking into churches in order to commit this sacrilege is morally wrong.

President Michael Sata of Zambia

President Michael Sata of Zambia

It is telling that, police raided churches of the poor of Kabwata and Chibolya. From the names of these congregations, it does appear that they are independent churches. They do not belong to the mainline traditions. There have been insinuations by some Zambian government officials threatening to close these churches. The idea that smaller churches mushrooming in our compounds should be banned and closed, is itself a serious violation of the liberties that our people have to worship God in the churches they choose. I find it unacceptable for the state to use its power to order citizens which church they need to attend. We do not need government to tell us which church is better than the other. Government has no role whatsoever in adjudicating competing religious doctrine. It does appear that these armed officers chose these small churches simply because they could get away with it. They targeted the poor. There is no way they were going to enter a Roman Catholic parish and do what they did. I appeal to the PF government to guarantee liberties for our people. If indeed, there is any problem with some doctrines being taught in these new churches, it should not be the government’s role to decide for Zambians which doctrines they should embrace. The pretext that they are going to be closing churches and banning ministries belongs to the old and tired times more barbaric than ours. Kaunda effectuated an embargo on the registration of new churches. We all know the kind of government Kaunda led. It was a dictatorship whose philosophy has no place in our modern democracy. We refuse for the PF government to return this country to the days of “by air” militias.

If some of the members of these churches have committed a crime, please arrest them. You can arrest them in their homes, on the street, or at their work places. Please do not go and disrupt a church services and check NRCs of those in attendance. This is not the Zambia we expect.

Raiding churches is an assault on liberty - Munshya wa Munshya

Raiding churches is an assault on liberty – Munshya wa Munshya

Immigration action over the weekend will send chilling effects to church leaders. It will also arouse suspicion among church members. Pastors, elders, deacons and ushers in the churches should not be checking for passports before they receive new members. Pastors should not be immigration officers. The accusation that the church is harboring illegal immigrants is equally absurd. How can these two churches that in fact meet in rented community halls “harbor” illegal immigrants? Where do they harbor these immigrants? Is it on Sundays for 3 hours? How does having immigrants in church on Sunday, in a rented community hall, amount to harboring “illegal immigrants”? Police and Immigration should not be accusing the church of this serious crime, especially, not under these circumstances.

Churches in our country should continue to receive people in their services. Grace Ministries Mission International should continue breaking bread with all believers without the fear that soldiers will break-in to intimidate innocent worshippers. The pastors of Pentecostal Assemblies of God (Zambia) assemblies should not be asking members about their nationality or whether members have an NRC or not. The ushers of St. Paul’s or St. Peter’s churches should not have to check someone’s passport before they let them take Holy Communion at the altar. Equally, those churches in our compounds, mushrooming as they are, should have the liberty on Sundays to meet and dance with others without being suspicious of each other’s origins and nationality. There is already enough suspicion between Guy Scott and Mulenga Sata over the nationality of Mulenga’s mother. We refuse that the PF should spread this umulomo to the churches. In the church, we kneel and dance together as one people redeemed by Christ. If immigration officers want to arrest someone, they can do so, somewhere else, and not in the church.

I urge the so-called church mother bodies to stand up for religious liberty. She who assaults liberties of these small churches will one day also assault liberties of the so-called big churches. Injustice to the little among us should be regarded as injustice to all. It is in this respect that we should all condemn the action of the police and immigration officers.

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Suggested citation: Munshya, E., ‘Assault on liberty: Why Immigration Zambia was wrong to raid churches Elias Munshya Blog (August 1, 2014) (available at http://www.eliasmunshya.org)

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