By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
ZANZIBAR CITY, TANZANIA (BosNewsLife)-- Tanzanian Christians were seeking justice Thursday, June 14, after hundreds of supporters of a separatist Islamic group burned two church buildings in the East African nation's semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar.
Last month's clashes were the latest in a series of attacks that saw dozens of churches destroyed in recent years, Christians and activists said.
Police accused the Uamsho (Awakening) group of ordering its followers to destroy the churches on May 26 and May 27 as part of protests against the recent arrest of 30 of its members.
Christians said the violence began in Stone Town, the historic commercial and tourism center of Zanzibar City, with some 200 Muslims shouting ‘Takbir, Allahu Akbar’ or 'Allah is great'.
The leader of the Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG) Bishop Dickson Maganga, told Tanzania's The Citizen online news service that a group of people raided his church building Saturday, May 26.
BREAKING IN CHURCH
“They broke into the church and burned plastic chairs before going for my car which they also reduced to a shell,” Bishop Maganga was quoted as saying.
He said “The fire brigade managed to put out the fire before it spread.”
Uamsho, a Swahili acronym of its full name the 'Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation', has denied having any part in the unrest, which local media claimed also injured scores of people.
The Islamic movement has called for a referendum on Zanzibar's exit from its union with mainland Tanzania.
The Indian Ocean archipelago of about 1 million people merged with mainland Tanganyika in 1964 to form the modern Tanzania, but Zanzibar retains its own president and parliament.
GOVERNMENT EXTREMIST CRACKDOWN?
Officials claim they are cracking down on extremists, but local Christian leaders have suggested that the Islamic government of Zanzibar at least indirectly supports anti-Christian violence by not giving permits for church buildings and not detaining the real suspects.
Some politicians have reportedly openly supported the destruction of churches.
Recent attacks are part of a wider anti-Christian trend in the region, stressed International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group investigations the incidents.
"Christians say that Islamic attackers have destroyed 25 churches in the past ten years but the Muslim government officials of Zanzibar have failed to bring the perpetrators to justice and rebuild their churches," ICC said published remarks.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, Jonathan Racho, said in a statement to BosNewsLife that his group has urged authorities in Zanzibar "to stop their policies of discriminating against Christians."
FUTURE R REMAINS UNCERTAIN
Tanzania, East Africa's second largest economy, has pledged to have a new constitution in place by 2014, with Zanzibar and the union's future expected to be one of the major issues of debate.
The Uamsho group is gaining popularity following the disenchantment of supporters of Zanzibar's main opposition Civic United Front (CUF) party after its decision to form a government of national unity with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, Reuters news agency reported.
Christians are concerned that this will lead to growing religious tensions in Zanzibar.