BULAWAYO, Saturday 16 February:
Eleven Christians, including four pastors were arrested by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) in Bulawayo. The Pastors were organising an interdenominational prayer meeting – praying for peace during the run up to next months elections. The 16th February was the 2nd anniversary of the start of the state orchestrated farm invasions.
The pastors had earlier requested permission for a “Peace Prayer Procession” but the police had refused to allow any public prayer vigil or march. The participating churches in Hillside, Bulawayo, planned to go ahead with the prayer meetings at the Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican and Catholic churches without the Walk for Peace.
Inspite of the fact that between 5 000 and 6 000 young Zanu PF militants have been deployed all around Bulawayo over the past few days, and a number of people had been very badly beaten, many hundreds turned up at Christ the King Church at 8.30 am for the first service. Father Noel Scott, from the Anglican Church, at the end of the service read out a letter from the Officer Commanding the Police for Matabeleland, he stated that a procession would lead to trouble and had refused to give permission for this Walk for Peace.
Rev. Noel said that as they could not walk in a procession, they would go as in a funeral procession, with him leading in his truck and the rest of the congregation following at a very slow pace with their lights on. This they did and proceeded to the Presbyterian Church.
One witness reported: “It was a wonderful time with fellowship, beautiful hymns and choruses and prayers for peace in our Beloved Country - Zimbabwe. There were Police posted at each church but they did not disturb any of the congregation, until we had reached The Church of the Ascension - during the very last hymn a Policeman carrying a walkie-talkie walked down the aisle and approached Father Noel who was in the pulpit and whispered something to him.”
“Father Noel was arrested as he came out of the church. He is not a well man, having had a 5-way By Pass Heart operation 14 months ago. He has been the priest at The Church of Ascension for the past 35 years and has done a great deal for the community of Bulawayo.”
“Apparently Noel Scott is being charged under the new Security Bill and the 10 ministers and lay preachers from the various churches who went with him, have also been arrested, as they refused to leave and knelt down and prayed in the charge office in Bulawayo. No-one in detention is being allowed any medication. A vigil is being kept outside the charge office and a prayer chain has been started in Bulawayo.”
Reportedly those arrested included: Rev. Noel Scott of the Anglican Church; Pastor Graham Shaw of the Methodist Church; Father Kevin O’Doherty of the Catholic Church; Pastor Palany Rajah (Pentecostal), Peter Botright (Methodist), Ron Marillier (Presbyterian), Trevor Leonard (Anglican), David Marolong (Anglican), Barry Dickenson (Roman Catholic), John Stakeby-Smith (Methodist) and his wife Joan (who are both teachers). One report also mentions a twelfth person who was apparently also arrested over the interdenominational prayer meeting – a Pastor Stoltz
David Coltart, a lawyer and Member of Parliament for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), reported that the arrested pastors and church members were being detained at the Central Police Station in Bulawayo. Apparently the Christians were being charged under the draconian new security laws with “disobeying the command of a police officer”! This carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.