Rwanda: Over 8,000 churches closed following new government directive

August 2, 2018

There has been a significant number of conversions to Holy Orthodoxy in Rwanda in recent years. But this story makes clear that the Rwandan government is determined to make life difficult for Christians of all faith traditions, while not showing the same harshness to people of other faiths. Please pray for relief for the Orthodox Christians and all Christians of Rwanda. Orthodoxy is still new in Rwanda; please keep the Rwandan Mission (a ministry of the Patriarchate of Alexandria) in your daily prayers. 

“More than 8,000 Rwandan churches closed following government directive,” World Watch Monitor, July 27, 2018:

The Rwanda Governance Board continues to close churches it says fail to meet requirements laid down at the beginning of the year. New requirements set in place for those congregations that want to continue ministry are also complicating efforts to comply. Many see the closures as part of an effort by the government to make its aggressive secular stance clear.

According to a report by Rwanda’s pro-government KT Press, more than 8,000 churches have now been closed, and the number keeps growing.

“On checking which churches were included, we learned that all churches are suffering the same fate, and that even churches considered luxurious for local standards have had to close,” a local analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, told World Watch Monitor.

World Watch Monitor learned that in one village the church was closed while a wedding was ongoing. The couple and all the guests were simply told to leave the church during the service, and the church was closed.

Another church was stopped from having services and other meetings (such as home groups) in a school hall as an alternative after all the churches in that parish had been closed. The church had timber instead of a metal door and window frames, and was told the roof also needed to be elevated “just a little”….

One congregation now meets in a church building in another neighbourhood. Another congregation’s members walk 20km to attend church in a neighbouring community after their church was closed.

New requirements

Many new requirements not originally included in the directive have now been added, including:

  • Toilets being a certain distance from the church entrance. In one instance local authorities entered the church halfway through the service and ordered the people to leave because the church would be closed. This church has fulfilled 80% of the requirements and was not aware of this new requirement.
  • Congregations have been told they also need to install a certain kind of canvas ceiling, even though that material carries a considerable fire hazard.
  • One church was told it needed to change its roof and rebuild one of the brick walls. This will be hard for them to do as they have already been forced to make loans and depend on the goodwill of businessmen to meet the initial requirements….

This law is being enforced even though it has not yet been approved officially. In most cases it is almost impossible for churches to make the required changes within the given timeframe of 15 days.

Secular country

Rwandans’ right to religious freedom is granted under article 37 of the 2003 constitution, which was amended in 2015. Prof. Anastase Shyaka, Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Governance Board, in a television show on Sunday 15 July claimed that churches that had been closed in fact remained active, with their right to religion guaranteed….

On paper, the same rules apply to Muslims as to Christians, but in practice this is not the case. Muslim clerics indicated that they would appeal the decision outlawing the calling of worshippers to prayer over loudspeakers. For now, the practice continues….