Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has intensified a clampdown on his detractors, including church leaders.
In July, the state-run media accused a leading opponent, Roman Catholic archbishop Pius Ncube, of committing adultery, leading to his resignation in September. More recently, Mugabe protégé Nolbert Kunonga, the Anglican bishop of Harare, pushed to disband the Central African province of which Zimbabwe's Anglican church is a member. Leaders within the province had angered Mugabe by denouncing his administration's corruption and economic mismanagement.
Zimbabweans contacted for this story said the president's desperation to stamp out opposition has increased as the country's economic crisis has deepened. Inflation reached 14,000 percent recently, and the International Monetary Fund predicts it could rise to 100,000 percent by year's end. Unemployment hovers around 90 percent.
"You get the feeling the wheels are falling off," said a white Zimbabwean educator who asked that his name not be used. Pastors in major cities, where protesters have been rounded up by the hundreds and brutally beaten, describe an atmosphere of intense paranoia in which they are regularly subjected to surveillance and intimidation. Government operatives sit in on church services and question churchgoers, they said.
"While we still have freedom to worship, the specific targeting of church leaders in some circles by government agents is intimidating to our members," said a pastor in Harare. "There is a real sense of powerlessness in that any attempt to do what is good or right is viewed with political suspicion and has serious psychological effects on our congregants."
According to Human Rights Watch, the government considers many civic and ...