Amid the political chaos that has gripped the Central African Republic (CAR) since a rebel coalition captured power five months ago, the country’s Christians seem to have become a target. The government recently arrested a top evangelical leader, and armed Islamists attacked Christian villages, killing at least 15 people and displacing about 1,000.
On Aug. 6, authorities briefly arrested President of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, Rev. Nicolas Guerékoyamé, for criticizing the government in a sermon at his church in the national capital of Bangui, LNC Media reported.
Days later, the Catholic group Aid to Church in Need reported that at least 15 people were killed and more than 1,000 rendered homeless after Islamist militia men attacked 14 Christian villages that come under the Catholic Diocese of Bouar.
The attackers were from the newly formed Séléka coalition, which overthrew the regime of President François Bozizé in a military coup in March. According to witnesses, the militants threw bodies in a river, including that of a five-month-old baby.
“These incidents highlight targeting of Christians and breakdown of law and order in the country,” WEA-RLC Executive Director Godfrey Yogarajah said.
Rev. Guerékoyamé is a member of CAR’s National Transitional Council (NTC), the acting parliament formed of 105 members, but “his immunity was not respected.” LNC Media noted.
The NTC was formed after the Séléka alliance suspended the constitution and parliament that functioned under President Bozizé.
Bozizé came to power in 2003 through a military coup, and had since won elections.
“By arresting the evangelical leader, the new regime seems to be sending the message that churches and Christian groups should abstain from opposing new officials in any manner,” Yogarajah said. “And the selective attacks on Christian villages raise the fear that Christians might bear the brunt of the breakdown of law and order in the country.”
A panel of U.N. experts this week said the rule of law is “almost non-existent,” and took note of “reports of killings, torture, arbitrary detention, violence against women, forced disappearances, acts of popular justice, as well as the general climate of insecurity and the absence of the rule of law established in the past 5 months.”
Reports suggest armed rebels are taking advantage of the anarchy in the country, and there is also infighting among the rebels.
It is learnt that rebels are sparing Muslim villages and homes as they go on a killing, looting and raping spree. Groups have also warned that over 100,000 children are facing sexual abuse and recruitment into armed groups.
About half of the country’s population of 4.4 million is Christian – 25 percent Protestants and 25 percent Catholics.
The country’s 15 percent Muslims are concentrated in the north, where the rebellion started. The new President Michel Djotodia, leader of the Séléka alliance, declared himself the country’s first Muslim leader after seizing power. Although he has said the CAR will remain a secular country, he is being suspected of having an Islamist agenda.
Yogarajah said the country’s Christian community needs to pray for and work towards religious harmony, adding, “The ongoing crisis is an urgent call for nations and international groups to provide all possible help and speak out for the protection of the Christian community and other vulnerable people.”
The Religious Liberty Commission is monitoring the religious liberty situation in more than 100 nations, defending persecuted Christians, informing the global church, challenging the Church to pray (www.idop.org) and giving all possible assistance to those who are suffering. The Commission also makes fact finding trips and meets with governments and ambassadors speaking up for the suffering brothers and sisters. At the United Nations the Commission reports about the situation and arranges special hearings with Christians from countries under pressure.