NAIROBI, Kenya — An American missionary who ran a conservative evangelical church and radio station in Rwanda was arrested in Kigali, the country’s capital, on Monday before he could hold a news conference to denounce the government for clamping down on churches like his.
The Rev. Gregg Schoof is one of several outspoken evangelical pastors who have criticized the Rwandan government for allowing access to abortion and birth control, and for teaching evolution. He was detained for attempting to hold a news conference without permission said Modeste Mbabazi, spokesman for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau.
Mr. Schoof moved his family from Indiana to Rwanda 16 years ago, nearly a decade after the genocide that killed as many as one million people. He established a Baptist church and Amazing Grace Christian Radio. But the government of President Paul Kagame last year revoked his station’s license and shut down his church, and recently refused to renew visas for Mr. Schoof and his family, Mr. Schoof said.
“I did not come here to fight the government. I came to preach the Gospel,” Mr. Schoof said in a statement he brought to what he had billed as a final news conference. “But this government has taken a stand against God with its heathen practices.”
The Rwandan government has been conducting a broad crackdown on the country’s religious institutions, closing thousands of churches and dozens of mosques, often accusing them of failing to comply with building safety standards. Many of the shuttered churches are small Pentecostal groups that meet in tents or flimsy buildings, and some preach a brand of so-called prosperity gospel that encourages worshipers to donate beyond their means.
Pastors who protested the closures have been arrested, and human rights advocates have accused Mr. Kagame of violating religious rights and free expression.
Rwanda’s telecommunications regulator revoked the license of Mr. Schoof’s radio station in 2018 after it had aired a sermon in which a pastor was heard denigrating women, by calling them evil, the regulator said. Rwanda has exerted strong control over the media since the 1994 genocide, which was partly incited by inflammatory radio broadcasts.
Mr. Schoof took the matter to court, but he said that the case has not been heard. In his statement, Mr. Schoof said that the pastor’s sermon about “evil” women had been taken out of context. He said the pastor had been preaching about bad churches — not bad women — and that the local media had parroted the government’s mischaracterization.
On Monday, Mr. Schoof had planned to give a news conference, issuing a news release saying he would “update all about the radio being closed, court cases, and other things.” But the manager of the bar where he planned to speak asked him to show government authorization to hold the meeting, and he didn’t provide it, a police spokesman John Kabera told a local newspaper, The New Times.
Mr. Kabera said in an interview with The New York Times that Mr. Schoof “was arrested for disturbing public order.”
Mr. Schoof could not be reached for comment.
In the statement he was planning to read for the press, Mr. Schoof faulted the government for closing churches and his radio station, arresting pastors, teaching evolution, allowing abortion and distributing condoms to young people.
He wrote, “Is this government trying to send people to hell?”
Until last year, Rwanda imprisoned women accused of having abortions. But a law passed last year allowed abortion in cases of rape, forced marriage, incest, or when the pregnancy posed a health risk to the mother. Earlier this year, Mr. Kagame ordered the release of nearly 400 women and girls who had been jailed for having or aiding in abortions.
Mr. Schoof said he and his family planned to move to Kampala, Uganda, this month. On Monday night, the minister was still in custody, the spokesman for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau said.
|The New York Times