Several priests and pastors from different parts of Uganda were on Sunday arrested by a joint security team for allegedly defying President Museveni’s directive against holding religious gatherings in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
President Museveni on Wednesday suspended religious, cultural and political gatherings for at least 32 days on grounds that it would help prevent the spread of the pandemic which has forced nearly one billion people around the world confined to their homes, as the death toll crossed 13,000.
However, the religious leaders were allegedly found celebrating mass/service on Sunday just hours after the Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng confirmed the first case of COVID-19.
Christ the King parish priest, Msgr Gerald Kalumba was briefly detained at Central Police Station in Kampala for allegedly defying the president's directive.
He was arrested shortly after live streaming of the mass on television.
“Msgr Kalumba was briefly detained for holding mass which attracted a number of people in the congregation. He was arrested with members of the congregation,” said Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson, Mr Patrick Onyango.
When contacted, he told this publication that he had been released and that police had been misled.
“This is the best test we have. Can we follow Christ while we are alone, in our homes or we only think of following Christ while in Church? As we stay away from Church, let us remain faithful and prayerful and doing charitable work,” Msgr Kalumba urged.
Kisoro parish priest, Rev Fr. John Bazimenyera was arrested for allegedly holding Holy mass. He was taken to Kisoro police station as investigations continue.
In Jinja town, Pastor Zakaria Sserwanda of Evangel Church was on Sunday arrested by police for preaching to a big crowd. According to one of the congregants only identified as Esther, there were less than 10 members who were just recording the service for others to watch from home.
"We were not more than ten in the church. The pastor was preaching while others were recording it live on Facebook," she said.
Mr Sserwada was taken to Jinja CPS to record a statement. By the time of filing this report, his followers had gathered at the police station and demanding for his release. "People are in the shrines, why are they not being arrested? We are just praying. The government should help us on this police," one of followers shouted from the crowd.
Mr Erick Sakwa, the Jinja RDC said that the pastor violated the president's directive.
"The pastor knows it well that the directive is a law. There is no any negations on that. Why does he violate the law?" Mr Sakwa said.
Relatedly, police in Kikwaya Sub County, Kakumiro District also detained a catholic priest for allegedly presiding over a wedding ceremony in Kyakajumbi contrary to what President Museveni directed on Wednesday.
Rev Father Kyaligonza Tom was found on Saturday presiding over a wedding ceremony of one Sarafina and her husband John Fisher all residents of Katoma LCI, Kyakajumbi parish, Kikwaya Sub County, Kakumiro District at Yerusalem Catholic Church in Kyakajumbi trading centre.
The Kikwaya LC3 Chairperson, Mr John Kyamanywa said the local leaders tipped police and other top district leadership about the ceremony that had attracted a big gathering.
“I informed police and other officials who said that the priest should be arrested. He was taken to Kikwaya police post and recorded a statement before he was released on bond,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, at Watoto Church in Kampala, the associate team leader, Pastor Julius Rwotlonyo asked Ugandans not to be afraid now that COVID-19 has been confirmed in the country. He said God is with Ugandans and that He will make everyone overcome the situation.
According to him, all Christians should use this situation to reach out to the under privileged.
“As long as God is with us, we do not have to fear anything. Whereas it is important to ensure everyone around our circles is fine, I challenge you to also look beyond and care for those around you,” Pastor Rwotlonyo said.
Following the presidential directive on religious gatherings, religious leaders were advised to use television, radio stations and online platforms to preaching to their congregants.