Rwandan Christians have expressed outrage after the crackdown, as officials enforced a strict set of rules declaring churches “unfit” for practise.
Thousands of churches in the East African country have been closed in recent weeks, after churches failed to meet the country’s new stringent requirements, which were announced at the beginning of the year.
Authorities have even shut down a village church while a wedding was taking place, with the couple and guests ordered to evacuate the building.
Included among the new regulations are rules regarding the location of toilets, with any violations resulting in authorities shutting down the building.
A local worshipper told anti-persecution watchdog World Watch Monitor: “On checking which churches were included, we learned that all churches are suffering the same fate, and that even churches considered luxurious for local standards have had to close.
“It seems that the local authorities in the different districts initially had some freedom about the degree to which they could enforce the new requirements.
“However, it now seems that those who were more lenient have been rebuked and have become stricter.
“In one district authorities banned all meetings of a closed church, and congregants are not even allowed to meet in home groups.”
Some villagers now have to walk 20km to attend a church in another neighbourhood, after authorities closed their local church down.
According to World Watch Monitor, “congregations have been told they also need to install a certain kind of canvas ceiling, even though that material carries a considerable fire hazard”.
Other requirements say that “church access roads as well as church compounds need to be paved” and “the inside walls and ceilings in the church must be plastered and painted”.
If these rules are breached, authorities have the right to shut down the church immediately without prior notice.
Justus Kangwagye, a Rwanda government official said that churches must meet “basic requirements in terms of safety, hygiene, infrastructure and legality”.
In February, Professor Anastase Shyaka, Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), told a press conference: “Some churches conduct their worship services in shoddy and unclean structures – to the detriment of people’s health and safety.
“Cases of noise pollution have also been reported, while some operate without the required operation permits.”
Article 37 of Rwanda’s 2003 constitution grants locals right to religious freedom however, there has been increased reports of secularism within the government.
According to the country’s newly proposed law, ministers are no longer allowed to conduct prayer meetings in government institutions and main roads remain closed on two Sunday’s per month, causing many to miss church services.
In March, six pastors were arrested for plotting to defy government orders.
The suspects allegedly held “illegal meetings with bad intentions”, after more than 700 churches and a mosque in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali were closed.
The pastors have since been released.