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Churches and religious institutions publicly opposing new Tanzanian constitution to be closed, says government


20 April 2015

Tanzania’s Minister of Home Affairs, Mathias Chikawe, has announced that churches and religious institutions that publicly oppose the country’s new constitution will be deregistered, beginning from 20 April. Tanzanian Christians oppose a bill that would introduce Kadhi (Islamic) courts across the country’s mainland, in the new constitution.

Tanzanian believers gather together to worship
Tanzanian believers gather together to worship

Speaking in Dar es Salaam on 14 April, Mr Chikawe announced that institutions that do not follow legal requirements will face being deleted from the register of institutions. "Some of the requirements include to submit the annual audited accounts to the register of the social and religious institutions and to pay the annual fee," he said.

However, according to Tanzania Christian leader “Ally”, it is public opposition to the constitution that is the driving force behind the Minister’s move. Angered by Tanzanian Christian leaders who have told their followers to vote against the Kadhi bill in the upcoming referendum, Mr Chikawe said: “It is true that the leaders of these institutions have the right to participate in political affairs as individuals, but it is illegal to use their leadership to convince their believers to carry out their political preferences.”

A list of churches and institutions to be deleted will be uploaded on the Ministry’s website, said Mathias Chikawe. Tanzanian Christian leader Ally told Barnabas: “While we know that they can't close mainstream churches, this decision will affect newly planted churches, especially in Muslim-majority areas”.

The contested bill proposes to introduce Kadhi courts across mainland Tanzania (they are already in place in Muslim-majority Zanzibar archipelago) to deal with family matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and family rights among the country’s Muslim population. According to the bill, all rulings made by Kadhi courts must be enforced by government bodies and cannot be appealed in the High Court.

With the referendum on the constitution coming up, and a general election scheduled for October this year, tensions between Christians and Muslims are high. Already, pastors opposing the bill have been jailed, harassed, and told they must vacate their church buildings.