Tanzania arrests three Christians for cooking food at home during Ramadan

Catholic Church in Stonetown, Zanzibar City. | Wikimedia Commons/Brandon Daniel

Three Christians were reportedly arrested in their home in Tanzania last month for cooking food during the Muslim Ramadan fast.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Tanzanian police entered a private home in Zanzibar on June 16 and arrested Emmanuel Yohana, his wife Katherine Emmanuel and a woman identified only as Khadija.

The two women were reportedly frying fish in the kitchen when the authorities, led by the area district commissioner, forcefully entered the property of the couple.

The three Christians were told that they had violated the law by cooking food during Ramadan. One police officer reportedly abused them verbally and said, "Today you will know how to fast."

The authorities released the Christians three days later, following interventions from church local leaders.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said that the arrests were "unjust and unwarranted" because the three Christians were cooking food in a private home, and as non-Muslims, they were under no obligation to observe Ramadan.

He contended that the arrests were "in violation of provisions within Tanzania's constitution that recognise the right to freedom of religion or belief and prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion."

"We urge the Government of Tanzania to intervene to ensure that constitutional provisions for the right to freedom of religion or belief are not only respected but also upheld by those tasked with enforcing the law," Thomas said.

Although the majority of Zanzibar's population are Muslims, the Constitution of Tanzania declares the nation as a secular state and protects freedom of religion and belief for all, according to CSW.

However, the Christian minority in Zanzibar experiences discrimination in various forms, including periodic attacks on churches and denial of permits for the construction of new houses of worship.

Local officials often impose extra-legal processes that are aimed at preventing the construction of churches. Christians are often required to obtain a permit from the community to build a new church, but their requests are usually denied due to the religious demographics.

While attacks on churches are regularly reported to the authorities, the local government rarely pursue charges against the perpetrators, even when they are identified.

Thomas urged the local government in Zanzibar to "review local planning decisions and to bring an end to the discriminatory practices" that prevent Christians from building churches.

"Mindful of Tanzania's religious diversity, we urge the Government of Tanzania to prioritise the respect, promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief throughout the nation for all its citizens, regardless of their creed," he said.

Tanzania is ranked in the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List as the 33rd country where Christians experience severe persecution.