According to human rights groups and media reports, Patrick Mugadza, pastor of the Remnant Pentecostal Church, was arrested in December for demonstrating outside the ZANU-PF annual conference. He carried a sign with the message “Mr. President the people are suffering, Proverbs 21:13”. Mugadza was charged with criminal nuisance for allegedly blocking pedestrian movement. Mugadza was released on $50 bail and was awaiting trial at year’s end.
On April 29, Madzibaba Ishmael, the leader of the Johanne Masowe eChishanu Apostolic religious group, was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison for public violence. In May 2014, Ismael and others reportedly attacked ACCZ representative, the ZRP, and journalists as the ZRP escorted Johannes Ndanga, the ACCZ President Archbishop, to the shrine of the Johanne Masowe Apostolic Church in Budiriro, a Harare suburb. Prior to the violence, the ACCZ had temporarily suspended the Johanne Masowe eChishanu Apostolic group, reportedly for failure to fully pay council dues as well as for its “wayward practices,” including reported statements by Ishmael that he was God, abuses against women and children, and preventing children from attending school. According to the press the attacks were a response to the suspension and the targets of the attack fled. The ZRP returned later that day, arresting group members as suspected perpetrators of the attacks on police and others, but Ishmael was not arrested until January 2. The ACCZ banned the Johanne Masowe eChishanu Apostolic group following the violence, but said it could rejoin the ACCZ if members conducted themselves according to ACCZ principles.
According to church leaders, on April 26, approximately 1,000 ZANU-PF youth gathered outside the walls of St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Chitungwiza in connection with a dispute over 82 hectares (203 acres) of land owned by the church. The crowd chanted ZANU-PF songs and blocked congregants from leaving the church grounds. For their safety, the congregants said they stayed inside the church for several hours after the service ended until riot police dispersed the youth who had massed outside the church gates. There were no reports of injury. Subsequently, the High Court ruled in favor of the church and police evicted the youth from the church property, where they had started building homes. The church reported there were no further incidents regarding the land dispute.
There were reports the government used security laws to target public events and prayer rallies of religious groups. According to the NGO Ibhetshu LikaZulu, each year since 2011, police in Bulawayo have blocked the NGO’s planned memorial and prayer services for an estimated 20,000 victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi mass killings by government forces, stating the services would incite violence. Attempts to hold the memorial services were blocked twice during the year. Ibhetshu LikaZulu appealed to the High Court in February and was awaiting a ruling at year’s end. Police blocked several prayer rallies organized by civil society and church groups on behalf of missing human rights activist Itai Dzamara.
There were reports from religious and civil society groups of government monitoring or harassment of religiously affiliated NGOs and their members who criticized the government. Instances included surveillance of NGO events by security officials, denial of police permission to hold public events, and investigations into whether organizations were compliant with complex registration requirements.
Ibhetshu LikaZulu stated its activities were monitored with increased frequency as the January Gukurahundi memorial dates approached. A Christian aid organization said that during the parliamentary elections NGOs, including religious NGOs, were required to have representatives of the government’s Central Intelligence Organization present at their meetings to ensure the NGOs did not engage in political dialogue.
The government reportedly began scrutinizing religious groups for activities considered to be commercial in nature, with some calling for those activities to be taxed. According to media reports, Pentecostal groups came under the most intense scrutiny.
While POSA exempts religious activities and events, the government continued to categorize as political any public gathering, including religious gatherings, critical of the ruling party.
Most official state and school gatherings and functions included nondenominational Christian prayers.