(Morning Star News) – A pastor in eastern Uganda and eight other Christians are missing two weeks after a Muslim mob attacked a church prayer meeting, locked the congregation in, beat several members and raped 15 women, sources said.
The approximately 90 Muslims broke into the evening prayer meeting of Katira Church of Uganda, in Katira village, Budaka District at about 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 15 and beat them with clubs and sticks, area sources said. Previously Muslims had only thrown stones at the roof of the church building to disrupt church services of the 500-member congregation, villagers said.
At the evening service, about 80 members were present, and among those who escaped before the doors were locked was a Christian who heard one of the assailants shout, “Away with the pastor who is converting our Muslims to Christianity,” a church leader said.
Pastor Moses Mutasa had been outside questioning some visitors unknown to the church when several others arrived shouting, “Away with the pastor,” and he fled, said the Rev. Musa Mukenye, who oversees several churches in the district’s Iki-iki County.
“We do not know what has happened to our pastor, Moses Mutasa,” Pastor Mukenye told a meeting of local officials, police and other security officers. “He might have been killed or has been kept hostage.”
The assailants locked about half of those in attendance inside the building, beat the men and tied them up while they raped women, said a church elder stationed outside the building who escaped. About 50 men and 30 women had attended the prayer meeting, and most of those locked inside were women, sources said.
Muslim assailants positioned outside the church building also beat men and raped women as they tried to escape, a church elder said.
“Women’s clothing was found inside and outside the church building,” he said.
The abused women received treatment at a clinic in Katira.
Police arrived about two hours after the assault began, sources said. Several church members were also injured as they were trampled in the rush to get out of the building. Much church property was damaged, especially chairs.
The assailants were Muslims from the area, which is predominantly Muslim, sources said.
When police arrived, the attackers fled. Two days later, church members found leaflets accusing the pastor of converting Muslims and threatening more attacks, villagers said.
On the morning after the attack, some church members intent on retaliating gathered, and as tensions mounted police intervened, convening a meeting with Christian, Muslim and local political leaders on Jan. 22.
Christians were planning to destroy the village mosque in order to send a message that they were not cowards, but Pastor Mukenye pleaded for them to adopt an attitude of forgiveness, and they refrained, he said.
Pastor Mukenye told Morning Star News that Christians should leave justice to authorities.
“This act is evil, and police should not relent until the attackers are arrested and charged in a court of law,” he said.
The assault was the latest in a series of incidents of persecution against Christians in eastern Uganda. On Jan. 2 Islamic extremists ambushed a church leader in eastern Uganda after a sheikh they had sent to assassinate him at a Dec. 4 church service instead became a Christian, sources said.
At a New Year’s celebration in Bugayi village in Pallisa District, Muslim relatives of a young woman who put her faith in Christ at a Christmas service coerced her into taking poison, she said. On Christmas Day, Muslims in eastern Uganda beat Christians at a worship service and wrecked the home of a single mother on Christmas Eve, sources said.
On Dec. 8, relatives of a former Islamic teacher attacked his 60-year-old mother for becoming a Christian, wounding her head and breaking her hand, sources said. Aimuna Namutongi sustained a deep cut on her forehead. She and her son, 30-year-old Malik Higenyi, were trying to gather cassava at 10 a.m. on the homestead he had been forced to abandon in Bufuja village, Butaleja District, after Muslim relatives threatened to kill him if he returned.
Higenyi, whom Muslim relatives had beaten unconscious on Nov. 13 after he publically confessed having embraced Christianity, managed to escape the fury of those who arrived at his farm on Dec. 8 while he and his mother were trying to harvest something to eat, he told Morning Star News.
Namutongi became a Christian after visiting her ostracized, injured son on Nov. 26 and listening to his faith journey, a local source said. He has continued to receive threatening messages, he said.
On Oct. 20, 2016, Muslims in Kobolwa village, Kibuku District gutted the home of a Christian family for housing two boys who had been threatened with violence for leaving Islam. Stephen Muganzi, 41, told Morning Star News that the two teenaged boys sought refuge with him on Oct. 16 after their parents earlier in the month learned of their conversion, began questioning them and threatened to kill them. The two boys, ages 16 and 17, had secretly become Christians nearly seven months before.
On Sept. 18, 2016, a Muslim in Budaka District beat his wife unconscious for attending a church service, sources said. Hussein Kasolo had recently married Fatuma Baluka, 21-year-old daughter of an Islamic leader in a predominantly Muslim village, undisclosed for security reasons.
On Aug. 10, a Christian woman in eastern Uganda became ill after she was poisoned, she said.
Aisha Twanza, a 25-year-old convert from Islam, ingested an insecticide put into her food after family members upbraided her for becoming a Christian, she told Morning Star News. She and her husband, who live in Kakwangha village in Budaka District, put their faith in Christ in January 2016.
In Busalamu village, Luuka District, eight children from four families have taken refuge with Christians after their parents beat and disowned them for leaving Islam or animism, sources said. The new-found faith of the children, ages 9 to 16, angered their parents, who beat them in an effort to deter them from sneaking to worship services, and on June 29, 2016 the young ones took refuge at the church building, area sources said.
About 85 percent of the people in Uganda are Christian and 11 percent Muslim, with some eastern areas having large Muslim populations. The country’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another, but Christians in eastern Uganda are suffering continual attacks by non-state figures.