Dodoma. The opposition bench said here on Thursday, that they will not relent until the government issues a complete statement on its letters to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) and the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC).
The bench – which comprises Members of Parliament from Chadema, CUF and NCCR-Mageuzi that together form the Ukawa group – calls upon leaders of the two churches to ignore the government’s letter.
“We will not give in….During the government’s ten-day ultimatum for the churches to rescind their messages, we will ensure that we speak about the issue in Parliament until a statement is issued,” said Mr John Mnyika (Kibamba - Chadema) during a joint press conference with MPs from the entire opposition bench.
The press conference was called after the Deputy Speaker, Dr Tulia Ackson dismissed a question by Mr James Mbatia (Vunjo – NCCR-Mageuzi) who had asked the Prime Minister, Mr Kassim Majaliwa to explain the government’s position over the letters, addressed to the two churches over their pastoral messages issued during Easter.
“It should be remembered that that sometime back, the Speaker, Mr Job Ndugai, dismissed a question by Ubungo MP, Mr Saed Kubenea who asked about issues related to Islamic religion. This too will not be answered,” said Dr Ackson.
But speaking to journalists, Mr Mbatia said it was unfortunate that the government was creating unnecessary tension with members of the two churches.
“Speaker starts by praying for the nation and for the Parliament every morning, shall we say he is interfering with religious affairs? We are sworn in using the Bibles and the Quran, are we interfering with religions?” he inquired.
He said all the rights and freedoms, including those t do with worship and expression, are clearly articulated in the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania.
In his remarks Mr Abdallah Mtolea (Temeke - CUF) said the government needs to understand that mosque and church goers have more trust in their religious leaders than they do with political leaders.
“Nobody is reminded about going to the church or to the mosque but we need all sorts of enticements for one to go to attend a political rally. This needs to sink well into the minds of government leaders,” he said.
The MPs are opposing the government’s move to write to the two churches, demanding them to rescind their recent Easter messages to the nation, which it (the government) views were politically-motivated.
In a letter – addressed to the ELCT and signed by a M. Komba from the Ministry of Home Affairs – the government threatens the religious body that it will take legal action if it (the church) does not act accordingly within ten days.
In its Easter message – which was signed by all its 27 bishops – the ELCT condemned the government’s divisive actions and renewed call for a new constitution that they believe would drive Tanzania out of the current challenges.