Rwanda police said on Tuesday they had arrested six “masterminds” planning to defy a government order shutting down over 700 sub-standard religious buildings.
The clergymen are accused of holding meetings at which they discussed resisting the order, issued last week, to close 714 churches and one mosque for allegedly failing to meet safety and hygiene standards.
“After the suspension of churches that did not meet required standards, some church leaders began illegal meetings intended to defy and obstruct the directive,” said Rwanda police spokesperson Theos Badege.
“Police began investigations to find the masterminds behind this illegal act.”
Badege said the six Pentecostal preachers “conducted illegal meetings with bad intentions aimed at calling for the directives to be defied.”
The shutdown, ordered by the Rwanda Governance Board which monitors public and private organisations, came into effect on Thursday and is set to continue until the churches meet standards on hygiene, safety and noise.
Most of the those affected are small, informal Pentecostal churches with congregations in the hundreds.
According to a proposed new law, all preachers must have theological training before opening a church.
Government official Justus Kangwagye told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that they simply required the churches to meet “modest standards”.
But President Paul Kagame has publicly questioned the need for the churches.
“Seven hundred churches in Kigali? Are these boreholes that give people water?” he said last Thursday, the East African newspaper reported.