By Kezia Koburungi
The High Court in Kampala last week heard a petition by religious leaders from various faiths seeking to constrain the government to fully respect and endorse their fundamental rights and freedoms to worship as embodied in the Constitution of Uganda.
Through their Lawyer, Amos Musheija and the religious faith applicants led by Bishop Wisdom Katumba Peter of Charis Fellowship among others, dragged the government to court for continuous restrictions on worshippers despite the fact that places of worship were reopened. Government was sued together with Hon. Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health and her Permanent Secretary, Dr. Diana Atwine, as scientists whose advice the President based on to close churches. The recommendation from these scientists was that Churches are non-essential on top of being super spreaders of Covid19.
Bishop Wisdom K Peter said, “We would like the court to lift all the restrictions that were placed against the places of worship, especially because we find them discriminative. We see no justification in opening market places without curbing numbers and yet the numbers for places of worship are curbed.” President Yoweri Museveni reopened places of worship in September but restricted the number of worshippers to 200 at a time to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. In response, Bishop Katumba says that some fellowships have big numbers with over ten thousand people, “So when you limit us to 200 people, it becomes an impediment; we still can’t gather,” he furiously complained. Applicants also said that much as the places of worship have been opened, many worshippers including the elderly and young who would like to attend prayers and Sunday school activities.
The extent of the effects of church closures can be best related by 76 year-old Robert Kato from Mpigi, a former school teacher. “At my age, church is a major highlight of my week where I get to socialize and see people. I now have no activity to look forward to where I can meet people unless there is a village meeting, which rarely happens or someone dies and there is a funeral,” Kato explained. He clarifies that he doesn’t wish for people to die but again, these are the only events where he can mingle with people. He quickly adds that funerals are not regular and cannot be planned like Church services on Sunday.
In the petition presented before the High Court Judge, Phillip Odoki, the religious faith leaders insist that the courts should compel government to fully respect and uphold the inherent and fundamental rights and freedoms which include religious freedoms as established under the constitution.
However, the Attorney General who was represented by Counsel Moses Mugisha insists that the case is not tangible and should be withdrawn because of the Covid-19 situation in the country. Mugisha presented a written statement to the same Court sworn by the Director General Health Services, Dr. Henry Mwebesa, who maintains that Covid-19 measures were put in place to protect human rights which is a constitutional responsibility of the government of Uganda. In the statement, Mwebesa said that if the state of affairs resulting from Covid-19 pandemic were left unabated, it could have been a worse disaster to the population than it stands today.
Justice Odoki, the presiding Judge, adjourned Court to March 16, 2022 to allow the legal team of the Religious leaders’ ample time to figure out whether they still have a valid case before Court.
Speaking about the court proceedings, Counsel Musheija who represented the complainants stated that the case was adjourned because his team had not prepared a response. He said that court had served them that morning on the day of hearing leaving them no time for a hearing.
The complainants were also not happy that the next date of hearing was placed months away as this leaves church goers burdened from the inability to meet. It is important to note that much as the President directed that churches are open to 200 members at a time, congregations like Zoe Fellowship which gathers about ten thousand people for a church service have not started meeting. “So how many 2-hour church services of 200 people can such fellowships hold on their day of meeting,” Bishop Wisdom retorted summarily.
Do you have a story in your community or an opinion to share with us: Email us at email@example.com