BANGUI, Central African Republic (BP) — Christians in the violence-ridden Central African Republic (CAR) are enduring atrocities under the country’s rebel government, whose leader reportedly seeks to turn the country into an Islamic state.
Home to roughly 5 million people and slightly smaller than Texas, the CAR, which lies in central Africa just west of Sudan and South Sudan, was already one of Africa’s least developed countries, with a history of instability. On March 24, a coalition of rebels known as Seleka took the CAR capital, Bangui, and sent then-President Francois Bozize into exile in Cameroon.
The new government, as described by reports in persecution monitor Morning Star News, is filled with Islamists whose troops have embarked on a spree of rape, murder, theft and general violence against Christians, who make up a majority of the population.
“It is clear, according to our research, that it is Christians who have been suffering under Seleka rule and Muslims have been profiting,” Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch told Morning Star News in an email, adding that Seleka agents “have not hesitated to attack Christian places of worship.”
Nicolas Guerekoyame is the leader of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, part of the National Transitional Council created to act in place of the former parliament. According to Morning Star News, he wrote a letter on May 10 to Michel Djotodia, Seleka’s leader, decrying the treatment of Christians.
“The various atrocities that preceded, accompanied and followed Seleka’s rise to power have been specifically aimed at the Christian population,” Guerekoyame wrote in the letter, which also was signed by Evangelical Alliance leaders Michel Gbegbe and Anatole Banga. “Churches and Christian institutions have been desecrated and plundered, priests and pastors have been assaulted and nuns raped.”
Guerekoyame was briefly arrested Aug. 6 for criticizing the government at his church, even though his position with the National Transitional Council granted him immunity. He was released later in the day.
Fears of Islamic law, or sharia, coming to CAR mounted when a copy of a confidential letter surfaced reportedly written by Djotodia to the Saudi Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Conference in 2012 asking for help overthrowing Bozize’s government.
“God willing and we come to Bangui; we will put in place a regime to apply Islamic sharia law,” the letter read, a copy of which was obtained by Morning Star. “Even if we fail to hunt Bozize, we will transform a part of the Central African Republic, Chad and Darfur into a new Islamic Republic.”
The letter, which Djotodia denies writing, also indicated that taking power in CAR was not the end of his aims.
“After our victory, we will also help [Islamists] take power in Chad,” he allegedly wrote. “We need your support, brothers. It should help us in material, money and homes. We agree that your items come to fight on our side.”
The World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission (WEA-RLC) released a statement Aug. 19 highlighting the danger to Christians in the CAR, relaying a report from the Catholic group Aid to Church in Need about an Islamist militia attack against 14 Christian villages. The attack killed 15 people and left more than 1,000 homeless. Witnesses said militants threw bodies into a river, including the corpse of a five-month-old baby.
“These incidents highlight targeting of Christians and breakdown of law and order in the country,” Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of WEA-RLC, said in the statement.
A United Nations panel said in August that the rule of law is “almost non-existent” and noted the many atrocities carried out in CAR as well as general insecurity.
Mudge of Human Rights Watch told Morning Star that CAR’s humanitarian crisis “verges on catastrophe,” with Seleka fighters still looting neighborhoods in the capital and rampaging through provincial villages.
“Because of a lack of security, humanitarian actors cannot access the most vulnerable; people continue to die in the bush due to disease, exposure and malnutrition,” Mudge said.
Djotodia has claimed people outside his control are committing the atrocities, but Bishop Albert Vanbuel, president of the Catholic Bishops Justice and Peace Commission, denounced the Seleka government in a May 5 statement as “a rebellion of religious extremism with evil intentions, characterized by profanation and planned destruction of religious buildings, especially Catholic and Protestant churches.”
Compiled by John Evans, a writer in Houston. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).