Tag Archives: Liberty

Liberty In Sorrow: Zambia should investigate Iglesia Ni Cristo stampede but unban the church

 

By Elias Munshya, BA, LLB, MA, MA, LLM, MBA, MDIV.

March 6, 2017 was a sad day for Zambia. Eight souls perished in a stampede as they gathered to receive food handouts from a church organisation known as Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC). This church organisation was first registered in the Philippines in about 1914 and from humble beginnings and ridicule it has grown in its outreach efforts around the world. One such efforts in Zambia led to it organising an event where it promised to distribute food hampers to the poor of Lusaka. With this promise, thousands turned out. Perhaps due to poor organisation and lack of good crowd control, 8 of our people unfortunately died. May the souls of our departed rest in eternal peace.

With tears in our eyes, and a strong sense of loss, the government of the republic of Zambia (GRZ) reacted swiftly. Government ministers addressed the nation. They explained what had happened and assured the nation that they are doing thorough investigations. They also expressed profound sorrow from our head of state. Lungu mourned with us. Tyranny, however, must be confronted regardless of where we are at in our heavy hearts. In moments of disappointment and pain, we must remain vigilant to safeguard the most sacred of our liberties. Nothing erodes liberty like giving in and giving up in the face of fear. Mourning we needed to mourn and investigations we needed to explore, the state, however, in addition to other measures decided to ban the Iglesia Ni Cristo. And this honour apparently fell in the hands of the Minister of Religious Affairs and National Guidance, Rev. Godfridah Sumaili. She addressed the nation and announced the ban of the Church of Christ (Iglesia Ni Cristo). It is my opinion that the ban was excessive, unnecessary and must be vigilantly rejected. For the following reasons.

First, the primary role of the church such as INC is religious worship. INC has several members in Zambia. They mostly meet in smaller houses of worship and have a very reasonable number in attendance each week. INC, however, organises a few large meetings such as crusades. It so happens that the church perhaps punched above its weight and underestimated how many people would show up to receive free food. What Rev. Sumaili perhaps needed to do was to ban the church from having large gatherings, rather than banning it from meeting at all. Banning the church from worship disproportionately violates their freedom of worship. It does not make sense to ban a church from worshipping for contravening the law that applies to something they did outside of worship. If for example there is a mine accident, it is reasonable for the state to intervene and ban a company from mining until safety issues are resolved. That is perhaps what was needed here – to ban the church from holding large gatherings while leaving its freedom to worship intact. The problem was not worship, the problem was the church holding a large gathering with little to no crowd control.

Second, the ban sends a chill down the spine of all religious denominations in Zambia. The Ministry of Religion and National Guidance must have no role in banning churches. It does not register them and therefore it has no business banning institutions that it does not register or regulate. Consequently, the government of the republic of Zambia does not regulate Zambians’ exercise of the freedom of worship. If we let Rev. Sumaili’s ban in place, it will set a very bad precedent where she might have the liberty now to begin banning churches indiscriminately. Political power need not be unreasonably trusted. Rev. Sumaili could be a good person, but her exercise of state power must be tempered by reasonableness. Erosion of liberties does not happen suddenly. It always starts very subtly. It is up to Zambians to be vigilant and push back against the state’s interference in religious liberties.

Third, the Ministry of Religion and National Guidance (MRNG) is a new ministry trying to find its raison d’etre. We must not let that be the banning of churches for reasons completely unrelated to Zambians’ freedom of worship. The dread we must all have with a ministry that seems to be wanting to regulate how Zambians worship is the impact that such a ministry may have on constitutional liberties. Zambia is a Christian nation. But the Christian nation declaration confers no reliable or enforceable rights on Christians as opposed to others. The Zambian state lacks the competence to arbitrate between competing religious doctrines. The MRNG should know that it has no role and no business whatsoever in guiding how Zambians will choose to worship or not worship. If at all there is any misunderstanding as to the role of the MRNG and its minister, let it be known, that Zambians will not sit idly while the state plays with their liberties like ping-pong.

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E. Munshya, BA, LLB, MA, MA, LLM, MBA, MDIV

Fourth, I am aware that Zambian government ministers are mostly people of conscience and the constitution accords them the liberty to worship. But the individual ministers’ religion should have no bearing whatsoever in how they promulgate public policy, particularly as far as churches and religion are concerned. The Zambian state has no business regulating how Zambians choose to exercise their constitutional liberty to worship. A few years ago, when around Easter police and immigration officers raided churches to hunt for illegal immigrants, I condemned such activities because they disproportionately targeted religious denominations. The state must not be sending guns to disrupt people gathered to worship God. The Zambian constitution’s religious liberty is afforded to both legal residents and illegal residents. The state should not be barging into churches to arrest worshippers who do not have immigration papers. If the state wants to arrest illegals, let it do so anywhere else and not in church. Religious freedom is too precious a liberty to sacrifice at the hand of political convenience.

I urge Hon. Sumaili to reverse her ban on the Iglesia Ni Cristo. The ban makes no sense and it is not rationally connected to her trying to prevent another stampede from happening. Stopping INC from worship limits the church members’ freedom of worship. If it is the stampede the state wants to prevent, it can take measures aimed at reducing those stampedes. Banning the church out-rightly is disproportionate and sets a very bad precedent. And we must not allow that to happen. Not in Zambia.

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)