Authorities in Rwanda closed more than 700 churches in the capital Kigali for failure to meet safety and hygiene standards, the privately-owned The New Times reports.
It says the operation began a week ago and has so far targeted 714 churches and one mosque.
A state official, Justus Kangwagye, told the news site the houses of worship were in breach of safety standards.
“Worshiping should be done in an organised way and meet minimum standards. Exercising your freedom of worship should not encroach on other people’s rights. They have been asked to halt operations until they meet the requirements,” he said.
Some of the churches may not be able to resume operations any time soon, he said.
Kangwagye said some premises exposed worshipers to risks.
“For instance, if the infrastructure is deemed likely to cause danger to those worshiping, it is obvious that it fails to meet the requirements,” he explained.
Many churches were found to have inadequacies such as lack of parking lots which would lead to their members parking by the roadsides and causing traffic jam. A few more received warnings for not having enough safety and security installations such as metal detectors or lighting arrestors.
Other churches which were closed operated from tents.
“Churches that are hosted in tents were also asked to review their premises before they can continue their operations. As for hygiene and sanitation, you cannot have a gathering where there is no water for washing hands, no toilets among other issues,” he said.
Heads of such churches were also put on notice to make the necessary adjustments.
The authorities also issued a warning to churches that make noise and disturb peace in residential neighbourhoods.
On legality, Kangwagye explained that setting up a church, requires a temporary certificate which expires after 12 months.
However, one is required to make an application for formalising their operations within nine months of opening before the expiry of the temporary certificate.
“Most failed to honour this and failed to apply for permanent [operation] documents. They cannot be allowed to operate outside the law,” the RGB official said.
Some churches, according to him, were hiding behind freedom of worship in breach of the law.
City residents expressed mixed reactions with some saying the move is waranted to protect the general public while others said churches ought to have been given more time to comply with the directives or seek appropriate locations.
Bishop Innocent Nzeyimana, the president of the Churches’ Forum in Nyarugenge District, pleaded on behalf of the churches that those lacking slight requirements should be reopened and allowed to operate as they fix issues raised.