A church in Niger was set on fire by Muslims protesting the arrest of a local imam who was critical of proposed legislation to regulate religion.
Sources told media that the Assembly of God church in the Zaria district of Maradi, the West African country’s third largest city, was torched by protesters on the night of June 15 and continued through the next day.
In addition to the church, the pastor’s car was also torched.
Witnesses told Fides, a Vatican news agency, the incident occurred after the arrest of Sheikh Rayadoune, an imam at the Zaria mosque.
Rayadoune’s arrest happened on June 15 after he criticized a proposed measure that he believed would impose regulations on worship during his Friday prayer services.
Witnesses told the Catholic news outlet that groups of young people demonstrated against Rayadoune’s arrest by building barricades on the road and burning tires.
Rayadoune was released from police custody the following day. Before his release, the cleric implored rioters to stop the destruction.
“All my supporters must stop burning things and making trouble in town: Islam does not recommend that I have in no way been mistreated by police,” the imam said in his message to supporters, according to News Central.
The imam also said that he was deceived by a poor translation of the bill’s text.
The draft bill was adopted in April by the Council of Ministers but has yet to be voted into law by Parliament.
An interior ministry official told AFP that the law is designed to prevent “anarchy and the distortions promoted by obscurantist terrorist groups to gain ground in our country.”
The official added that there is “nothing anti-Islam in the text.”
The proposed law comes as a string of attacks from Islamic State and al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic extremist outfits have plagued Sahel region countries like Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith