After nearly three months of waiting for places of worship to be re-opened but without any hope in sight, a group of Christians in the southwestern Uganda district of Kabale chose to relocate their prayer sessions to a forest outside Kabale town.
The group with their pastor, Obed Ndhyamuba of Word of Faith Church, Nyabikoni ward, in Kabale Municipality’s Central division set off on Wednesday for what they believed to be a secretive location inside a eucalyptus forest atop Makanga hill on the outskirts of Kabale town.
Unfortunately, by congregating in a forest, they raised suspicion and some members of the public alerted the Police that raided and arrested at least 14 of the congregants while others escaped.
Some of the suspects are Ruth Twebaze, Prudence Rosette, Naome Nahwera, Mercy Orishaba, Sheila Owomugisha, Grace Ninsima, Mary Rukundo, Patience Turyahabwa, Lucky Akansimira, Alex Shema and Bosco Innocent.
The 14 with their pastor Ndyamuba are being held for defying President Museveni’s directive banning religious gatherings.
According to Elly Maate, the Kigezi Region Police spokesperson, the suspects were found praying in a group of more than 50 people in a eucalyptus and pine tree forest on top of Makanga hill in Central division in Kabale district on Wednesday afternoon.
Maate said that this wasn’t the first time that the church members were congregating in the forest. Information from the community members indicates that the group had been converging every Wednesday and Saturday on the hill for prayers.
The remaining worshipers were arrested and locked up at Kabale Central Police vide police file SD48/10/06/2020. Maate explains that the suspects hail from different Sub counties in Kabale district.
He wonders why people continue gathering from prayers in disregard of the presidential directives on congregational prayers as part of the Covid19 preventive measures.
Pastor Ndyamuba, the head of the group pleaded for their release in vain. He explained that his followers were forced to congregate in the forest for prayers because they are hungry for God since places of worship have been closed for long.
The suspects argue that they converged to pray to God to chase away the Coronavirus from the world and were observing physical distancing.
This is not the first time Christian worshipers in Kigezi sub-region are being arrested for defying the ban on congregational prayers. In March this year, Pastor Festo Kasooka from Revival Tabernacle Church in Kabale district was arrested together with 8 followers holding prayers in the home of Judith Ahimisiwe in Rushambya village in Northern division.
In the same month, Rev. Fr. John Bazimenyera, the Dean of Mutolere Deanery in Kisoro district was arrested for holding prayers. In May this year, Rev. Canon Patrick Habasa, the Archdeacon of Nyamiyaga Archdeaconry in North Kigezi Diocese in Kanungu district was arrested together with four Christians for holding a baptism ceremony.