Churches worldwide are urging their members to pray for the people and government of Zimbabwe Sunday ahead of this week's much anticipated runoff election that could end decades of oppressive rule under President Robert Mugabe.
"It is impossible to overstate the importance of this election, its fairness, its outcome and its aftermath," commented the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), in a letter to the WCC member churches.
"Events in the coming weeks will challenge the people of Zimbabwe and the world to find means of overcoming violence in the exercise of democracy, and the results will influence the future of the nation and the region," the ecumenical church leader added in reference to the June 27 runoff election.
Zimbabwe has been plagued with political violence and accusations of vote count fraud since its March 29 presidential election. Opposition party MDC (the Movement for Democratic Change) has accused the ruling Zanu-PF party of killing its supporters and plotting to assassinate its top leaders. International human rights groups have affirmed that Mugabe loyalists are responsible for dozens of deaths of opposition supporters.
"Credible reports reaching us indicate a blatant intimidation of voters and people being tortured. Some have died," said the Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), in a letter to 214 churches around the world.
Nyomi highlighted in his letter the suffering of Zimbabweans under outrageous inflation – more than 100,000 percent – food shortage, and violence targeted at those who do not vote for the ruling party.
"This creates a very intimidating atmosphere for the run-off elections. We are committed to the rights and welfare of all Zimbabweans, not just to one party or the other. Our main concern now is to ensure that Zimbabweans feel free to express their democratic rights," Nyomi added.
In the past weeks, President Mugabe has repeatedly declared his unwillingness to relinquish power even if he loses in the runoff election. He declared Friday that "only God" could remove him from office, according to Agence France-Presse.
"The MDC will never be allowed to rule this country - never ever," Mugabe told local businessmen in the city of Bulawayo.
"Only God who appointed me will remove me - not the MDC, not the British."
Mugabe was a key figure in Zimbabwe's fight for independence against British rule. He retained power since the country's independence from Britain in 1980.
The MDC said it is reconsidering whether to compete in the June 27 election given the increased political violence, including the arrests of two of its top leaders and the claimed death of 70 of its supporters.
"In the light of the violence and intimidation, we will make a position whether we still feel the people's will will be realized, whether it's conducive to go into an election," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told AFP.
The MDC planned to meet Sunday to debate whether it should continue its presidential bid on June 27.
"Pray that God will raise up a righteous and just ruler for this country," urged Christian persecution watchdog group Barnabas Fund in its newsletter. "Pray that Zimbabwean Christians, who have been one of Mugabe`s many targets, will be salt and light in their country at this time of immense suffering."