Zambian authorities have deported a Rwandese Catholic priest after he was detained for two days and questioned for preaching about poverty and justice for the poor during a Mass, according to a Catholic News Service report on NCR Online.
Edgar Lungu, minister of home affairs, confirmed that Father Viateur Banyangandora, pastor of the parish in Lundazi, Zambia, was sent to his homeland on August 1. He declined to say why the priest, 40, was deported.
“Father Banyangandora’s conduct was found to be a danger to peace and good order in Zambia,” Lungu said.
Zambian church officials had no immediate comment on the deportation.
Father Banyangandora was picked up at his residence by police on July 30, and taken to Lusaka, the Zambian capital, for questioning, said Father Evan Sakala, the parish’s parochial vicar.
Father Sakala explained that police pointed to comments that Father Banyangandora made in which he castigated the government over its handling of an impasse between cotton growers and cotton ginners.
He said the authorities apparently considered the comments capable of inciting people to rise against the government.
The following statement has been released by the Church regarding the deportation:
A Statement to Catholics on the deportation, by the Zambian Government, of Fr. Viateur Banyangandora to Rwanda
To be read in all Catholic Parishes of Chipata Diocese
DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED (John 14:1)
On 12 August 2012
1. To Priests, Religious Sisters, Brothers and the laity of Chipata Diocese. To all Catholics and men and women of goodwill in Zambia!
2. Let me from the outset express my deep appreciation to all of you who have sent messages of solidarity to me and to the Diocese of Chipata on the unfortunate deportation from Zambia of our beloved Parish Priest of Lundazi Catholic Church, Fr. Viateur Banyangandora by the Zambian Government. I am particularly grateful to messages of solidarity from my Brother Bishops in the various Catholic Dioceses of Zambia.
3. I first learnt of the abduction of Fr. Viateur on Monday, the 30th July around 17:00hrs when he, himself phoned me. He asked for permission to meet me in Chipata before proceeding to Lusaka where he was being taken. I met him at Chipata Police Station where I had a brief chat with him. He told me that the security officers who took him did not clearly explain to him the reasons for his arrest except that it was in connection with Sunday Homily in which he spoke about cotton prices. He assured me that he never attacked government in any way. His message was about the have sharing with the have nots as the readings of the day were saying. On the day before his abduction, Fr. Viateur spoke passionately about the plight and poverty of his parishioners and the people of Lundazi. He was exercising his prophetic ministry as any Catholic priest would and should (2Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15). He shared this with me in the presence of police officers.
4. I asked him as to whether he had eaten something before leaving Lundazi to which he said no. We then prepared something for him to eat. After his meal, he was on that very night driven to Lusaka. I informed Bishop Benjamin Phiri who was by then in Lusaka and Monsignor Joseph at the Nuntiature about this issue and asked them to pursue the matter and establish two things: (1) Why he was picked and (2) his destination because the Commissioner and her deputy here in Chipata expressed ignorance about the whole thing. They said that they were simply obeying orders from Lusaka.
5. In Lundazi, I am reliably informed that Fr. Viateur was interrogated on Monday 30th July, 2012 by various officials, including the District Commissioner (a politician!). Fr. Viateur was later that day brought to Chipata where he was further interrogated by a combined team of Immigration, Police and Office of the President (OP) agents. During his interrogation and traumatising ordeal, he was not availed a lawyer and not a single diocesan official was present nor notified of Fr. Viateur’s arrest. Without being charged, Fr. Viatuer was later that very evening, driven to Lusaka in the night. From then on there is a black-out of information. Where was Fr. Viateur taken? Was he beaten, tortured? Was he being fed? What did they do about his Diabetic medicine? His BP medicine? What really did the State do to Fr. Viateur? We will need answers. What crime did Fr. Viateur really commit? Has preaching the Gospel in a so-called Christian Nation become a crime?
6. When Fr. Viateur was being held by the security wings, my colleagues and I at the Diocesan administration of Chipata Diocese made several and frantic attempts to secure the release of Fr. Viateur. We spoke to politicians, heads of the various security wings both in Chipata and in Lusaka. In most cases the people we spoke to were tight-lipped and did not want to give us any information. Most of them, their overzealousness notwithstanding, were clearly afraid for their jobs. All in all, we did not get a satisfactory answer from anyone we spoke to on the Tuesday of 31 July 2012. I personally even phoned and spoke to the Republican President on the issue. He only promised that he would get back to me..
7. In a desperate move, and working with our staff at the Catholic Secretariat in Lusaka, we engaged a lawyer, Mr. S. Mambwe and associates to comb all Lusaka Police cells and find Fr. Viateur. All was in vain. We have been kept in the dark about the safety and the whereabouts of Fr. Viateur for four days until the announcement after the deportation by the Zambian Government on the evening of Thursday 2nd August 2012 by the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Edgar Lungu who finally confirmed, through the media, of his deportation from Zambia to Rwanda. The reasons given were that our beloved priest was deported for violating the laws of Zambia and that his conduct was found to be a danger to peace and good order in Zambia contrary to Section 39(2) of the Immigration and Deportation Act, No. 18 of 2010. Even after this confirmation, there was no courtesy on the part of government to inform me about the plight of our priest. I too, heard it through the media.
8. To the parishioners and people of Lundazi. You have been unjustly deprived of your pastor. As your Shepherd, I grieve with you at this great injustice that has been done to one of our own by our Government. We all know and have lived with Fr. Viateur. He is a good priest and a man of peace and integrity. No amount of explanation will ever convince us that he would behave in a manner that would cause a breach of peace of this country. Despite this injustice done to him, I still appeal to you all to remain calm and peaceful.
9. Fr. Viateur was ordained in 2004 and thus he became our priest. He became a priest of Chipata Diocese. He chose to remain in Chipata as one of the diocesan priests till his death.
10. I, like the rest of the members of the Catholic Church, are still in a state of shock that such a thing can happen to him and government does not care to explain as to why he was abducted, where he was taken. We urge the government to seriously consider revoking the deportation order for the sake of unity.
11. I further wish to remind the Patriotic Government (PF) that; You were voted into government on a popular platform of correcting the injustices of the past and entrenching good governance and a democratic culture where the rule of law would reign supreme. The manner in which Fr. Viateur was abducted and deported has not only perplexed us but has shocked us to the bone. We never thought we would see the day in this current government when the freedom of expression, let alone at the pulpit, would be criminalized in Zambia. We earnestly urge the government to address the real issues that are today affecting the poor people.
12. Notwithstanding the fact that Fr. Viateur holds a Rwandan passport, his human and constitutional rights have been grossly violated by the state. The way he has been treated flies in the face of natural justice. He was not given opportunity to be heard; he was not allowed legal representation of his choice and he was detained in secret location.
13. To the priests of the diocese, religious men and women, parishioners of Lundazi and Catholics in general, I appeal for calm. It may take one week, one month or many years but we will not rest until justice and truth are served in this matter. We believe that justice and truth will be served one day! Fr. Viateur will one day return to us.
14. A special appeal to our Catholic priests: Do not be intimidated by anyone. You were ordained to preach the Gospel and this must be done even in the face of persecution. In doing so, you will be carrying out the prophetic role of being the conscience of society. As Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both Soul and body in Gehena” Matt. 10:28. No one shall be allowed to silence our priests.
15.In conclusion, I commend you all to pray for Fr. Viateur Banyangandora, his family and also the Rwandan refugee community resident in Zambia. In the January 2012 Pastoral letter, we the Catholic Bishops highlighted the plight facing the Rwandan refugee community in Zambia. Could the deportation of Fr. Viateur signal the start of worse things to come for this community and for our priests? Only God knows.
United in prayer, for the unity of our Diocese and beloved country, Zambia.
“That they have life and life in abundance” (John 10:10)
Rt. Rev. George Cosmas Zumaile Lungu
Bishop of Chipata Diocese
c.c. Most Rev. Ignatius Chama, Archbishop of Kasama Archdiocese and ZEC President.
c.c. Most Rev. Telespore G. Mpundu, Archbishop of Lusaka
c.c. Most Rev. Julio Murat, Apostolic Nuncio to Zambia and Malawi
c.c. Rt. Rev. Benjamin Phiri, Auxiliary Bishop of Chipata Diocese.
c.c. Rt. Rev. Bishop of Ruengeni Diocese, Rwanda.