The government of Uganda has been dragged to East African Court of Justice over its intentional refusal to reopen places of worship.
On 18th June, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni imposed a second total lockdown of 42 days to curb the spread of the second wave of covid-19.
After 42 days some sectors such as public transport were allowed to operate at 50 percent level, arcades were also allowed to open, business centres such as Kikuubo were also allowed to operate however places of worship were kept closed for other 60 days.
The three concerned citizens; Bishop Jack Barlow from Reigning in Life Ministries, Matanda Abubaker Hassan and Namukisa Josephine say government reopened places like business centres which are more congested with people and less organized than places of worship.
Through their lawyer Daniel Walyemera, the applicants want the East African Court of Justice to declare that continued enforcement of a ban and /or suspension on religious freedom by the government is a violation of the freedom of religion, conscience and belief and associated fundamental civic right protected under Article6 (d) of the East African Treaty that enjoins partner states to govern following the principals of good governance.
Other declarations included; That the effect of the presidential Directives has a chilling effect on the right to freedom of religion, belief and conscience which is a breach of Article 6 (d) and 7 (2) of the treaty.
They want the court therefore to order the government to cease the enforcement of the ban and/or suspension of the religious freedoms.
They also want an order that allows places of worship to reopen on similar terms as other public places/ in respect of their beliefs with observance of Covid-19, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and a permanent injunction restraining the government from enforcing any oppressive SOPs against places of worship.
Applicants speak out
While addressing journalists at Makerere University on Tuesday, Matanda said that the government indiscriminately closed the places of worship which goes against several human rights and abuse of various obligations that places of worship ought to do in various communities of the country.
“We all know that we are living in unprecedented times with a pandemic in our midst but as we might be aware, states and governments like ours don’t have a very good record of respecting human dignity and rule of law and so every time you give them chance even in the state of crisis to issue unilateral and arbitrary orders and SOPs they often abuse that space. Therefore, we are saying for purposes of places of worship the SOPs put on them are also too discriminatory, unreasonable and not justifiable and they are likely to worsen the situation.”
Bishop Barlow also added that if the government can allow a market, burials where people are coming from different places how about places of worship where people are disciplined, there is a very clear hierarchy, high order and hygiene and high level of leadership? He said that the excuses government is giving why churches are still closed are not justifiable.
“This is indeed a cry we are passing out where we feel that there is an injustice that is being perpetuated which can be corrected and for lack of an avenue of how to correct it, this is one of the options that we have chosen to take. So we are pleading with the government to reconsider its directive because it’s infringing on the right of every individual.”
Namukisa also wondered why places of worship were not considered by the government as as important as other reopened sectors.
“Excluding places of worship from essentials sectors was not good at all because that is where most of us run for spiritual empowerment. This pandemic has left many people troubled psychologically and the only way is to open places of worship to counsel troubled people. When I lost my father last, it was one of the hurting moments but not being able to hear from my pastor in charge of spiritual wellbeing regularly made the situation all the worse. I think that people who advise the president don’t attend churches and they can’t account for the reason why places of worship must be opened.”
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