The Church of England's top clerics have condemned the latest wave of police intimidation against members of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, calling it "unacceptable" and a "further blow to civil liberties."
Churchgoers, including clergy and local bishops, were barred from entering their churches on Christmas Day by police, who also threatened them with arrest and violence.
Archbishops of Canterbury and York Dr. Rowan Williams and Dr. John Sentamu, in response, said they "condemn unequivocally any move to deny people their basic right to worship."
"To prevent people from worshiping in their churches on Christmas Day – unable to receive the church's message of hope – is a further blow to civil liberties in Zimbabwe," they said, noting the Church as the only lifeline for people "ground down by unceasing unemployment and lack of basic services".
"Such unprovoked intimidation of worshipers by the police is completely unacceptable and indicative of the continued and persistent oppression by state instruments of those perceived to be in opposition," the clerics added.
Earlier in the year, the Anglican Diocese of Harare brought charges against the police chief of Zimbabwe for sending police to block Anglicans from entering their churches for Sunday services.
Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri was accused by the diocese of working with the excommunicated Bishop of Harare Nolbert Kunonga to destabilize the Anglican Diocese of Harare.
Kunonga, a supporter of President Robert Mugabe's regime, set up his own province following his expulsion from the Anglican Communion in 2007. He has since refused to heed a high court ruling to share churches with Anglican congregations and has been locked in a wrangle with the new Bishop of Harare, Chad Gandiya, over ownership of the church's property within the diocese.
Kunonga and his supporters have frequently turned to violence and intimidation tactics to push people away from the Anglican Church in Harare. Interim Bishop of Harare, Sebastian Bakare, was forced in March to confront riot police when they burst into a Sunday service.
In a statement last year, Anglican bishops made clear that they do not recognize Kunonga as a bishop within the Anglican Communion and called for the full restoration of Anglican Property within Zimbabwe to the Church of the Province of Central Harare.
Some reports claim that Kunonga has been limited to conducting his rival services to socialist militiamen and police officers instead of church congregations.