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File photo of a Catholic church in Niger File photo of a Catholic church in Niger 

Niger: Protesters set fire to Christian Church

A Protestant Church is set ablaze in Niger following the arrest of a prominent Muslim leader, extending ongoing interreligious strife in the country.

By Francesca Merlo

Setting fire to the church of the Assembly of God, in the city of Maradi, was reportedly an act of retaliation by protesters who were demonstrating against the arrest of a prominent imam.

Witnesses said groups of young people demonstrated by placing barricades on the road and burning tyres.

The church was set on fire after the influential imam of the Zaria mosque was arrested by police on Saturday. He was accused of criticizing a government bill on the organization of worship in Niger "anti-Islamic" on Friday.

However, police said that he was released on Sunday afternoon. They also said he has now apologized.

In a message, shortly before his release, the imam urged his supporters to stop creating unrest in the city, stressing that Islam does not support this.

An invitation to perservere

The Bishops of Niger and Burkina Faso recently denounced the strategies used by terrorists of causing fear among the populations and for sowing the seeds of inter-community and interreligious conflicts.

They particularly invite Christians to persevere in prayer and to intensify measures of prudence and vigilance both at the individual and community levels in a climate of faith and hope.

The text concerning the bill, regarding religious practice, is due to be discussed in Parliament on Monday.

A duty to protect

After a meeting between the Prime Minister and the leaders of Muslim organisations, the Minister of Higher Education said action will never be taken against Islam, and stressed: "We have a duty to protect other religions".

Niger’s Ministry of the Interior stated that the aim of the implementation of this law was to avoid "the abuses advocated by terrorist organisations".

Ongoing violence

Niger is a predominantly Muslim country, with 1 to 2% Christians out of a population of more than 20 million inhabitants.

The country has already experienced serious religious unrest. After the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015, anti-Christian riots killed ten people in Niamey and destroyed most of the churches in the capital and in Zinder, the country's second largest city.

17 June 2019, 15:50